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Tours and Lore Of The Southwest

Updated on January 23, 2016

What Must It Have Been Like a Hundred Years Ago for Native Americans In The Vast Southwest


Indians singing and dancing around a roaring campfire or planting seeds by the light of a full moon.These visions and more were felt during my visit to Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, Canyon De Chelly (pronounced shay) National Monument and Casa Malpais Archaeological Park.

These established landmarks form a 700 mile triangle from northeastern Arizona into northwestern New Mexico and may have been part of a migration that has fascinated modern archaeologists for years. Presently, Canyon De Chelly is the only area where Native Americans still live and farm. Although, there are plenty of ruins still standing and a legacy of trails worth exploring in Chaco Canyon and Casa Malpais.

Hopi Indians Were Part of This Migration

Much of Their Lore Reflects World Changes

According to Hopi legends, many, many generations may have migrated through these areas in a succession of underworlds. This succession of underworlds according to Frank Waters, author of "The Hopi Way" lasted five worlds. The Fifth World is where we are now. The First World called "Endless Space" started out as a pure and happy time. Unfortunately, conflict surfaced because people forgot who they were. Ultimately this world was destroyed by fire. The faithful were protected underground in kivas with the ant people. The kivas of today represent those anthills and were often located within the great plazas of the great houses of all these locations. Kivas accommodated hundreds of people and served as ritual settings for entire communities. Often times while retreating in the kivas, other worlds opened up for the people and they communicated, according to Greg Braden, author of "Walking Between the Worlds".

The Second World according to Waters was called "Dark Midnight" and was destroyed by cold and ice. Again, the kivas kept them warm and dry. Once the destruction stopped, they climbed up a ladder into another world. This was the Third World. Dissension broke out quickly among people and this world was destroyed by flooding. However, this time an appointed caretaker named Spider Woman saved the ancients by hiding them in reeds and floating them to dry land into another world, the Fourth World. The Fourth World, according to Waters, was called "World Complete." This world is unlike the previous three, where the ancestors were provided for. The Fourth World has harsh deserts, never ending marshes and mountains of violent weather. The Fourth World is to be a time of awakening, realizing how we affect each other and that we are all one. Sounds like what might be happening now, doesn't it? The Hopi say we are living in the fourth world which is now ending and that a Fifth World is beginning. What or who will guide us safely into this world?

Chaco Canyon Holds Many Secrets to the Anasazi Culture

Lots of Hiking Trails to Check Out To Get The Most Out of Your Visit

Chaco Canyon National Historical Park sits in Northwestern New Mexico and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1987. According to archeological studies, between 4,000 to 6,000 Hopi, Pueblo, Navajo and other Indian tribes passed through this canyon. From 850 A.D. to 1150 A. D. the Anazasi lived within great houses often oriented to solar, lunar and cardinal directions. There seems to be an unending fascination about the Anazasi's and their use of sophisticated astronomical markers, water control devices and Chacon "roads." At the Chaco Canyon visitor center a video program is shown hourly about these ancient inhabitants. A small museum displays artifacts, maps and other memorabilia.

This is all good information, but I love to go hiking. Checking out the ruins and layout of the land is what I came for. Self guided tours are set up to lead you through the grand Pueblo Bonito, (Spanish for Beautiful Town) the largest Anasazi ruin, Casa Rinconado (Great Kiva) and Una Vida (another great house).

For longer treks, there are at least a dozen hiking trails leading to the top of the mesa for views of the entire Chaco Canyon network of ruins. Most are fairly easy with little elevation gain, the longest trail is a little over six miles. The park visitor center requires a park permit to hike these trails. We chose the Pueblo Bonito Rim Overlook trail. After a steep one and a half mile climb the ruins of Pueblo Alto greeted us as a setting sun shadow danced across the canyon walls.

Canyon De Chelly

Spider Woman and Her Famous Rescue

Shadows weren't dancing across the canyon walls as my girlfriend and I hiked down the easy 1.5 mile trail to White House Ruin. Canyon De Chelly is open year round and jeep tours are also another way to enjoy the canyon. Today, the White House Ruins sit behind a chain link fence on the valley floor adjacent to the canyon walls. The valley floor was warm that day and cottonwood trees were just beginning to leaf out giving us a little reprieve from the sun. Indian vendors danced back and forth across a narrow muddy river in hopes of selling their wares to incoming tourists.

Canyon De Chelly National Monument is west of Chaco Canyon and in Northeast Arizona. Overlooks of the canyon are accessible by driving a two-lane road that meanders along the rim. My favorite overlook was Spider Rock. The above picture is a landmark of Spider Woman's home where she helped people move into the fourth world by hiding them in the reeds and then floating down to dry land. Today, only two tall spires of red sandstone stand alone in the middle of the valley floor.

If you want to stay the night, there are free campsites on the rim and a modern Thunderbird Lodge that offers a gift shop, restaurant and rug room.

Exploring the Four Corners Region

Any time you go on a hike, there is a good chance of finding some pottery shards.

Casa Malpais Archaeological Park

The Best Place to See Anasazi Pottery

Further south of Canyon De Chelly lies Casa Malpais Archaeological Park. Even though it is considered a National Historic Landmark, evidence of underworld activity within the ruins and outside of them is strong. In Springerville, AZ, a small museum houses many intact relics of pottery for display. Outside, a mile or so away, now enclosed in a fence yard are ruins and petroglyphs panels depicting human like figures with tails. This may have represented ancestral beings before they emerged above ground to the fourth world. This 8 X 4 foot panel may also offer an inkling about the Zuni and Hopi clans that lived and held ceremonies here six hundred years ago. Archeologists propose these drawings came from the Parrot Clans because there is a parrot spitting rainwater onto a corn plant. This indicates that the Corn Clan and Parrot Clan went their separate ways, according to Hopi legends.

Below the corn plant is another human like figure which represents a female because of the hair spools on each side of the head. According to legends, this means she is single and still waiting for her man. At the time of this drawing, 20,000 Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and Mogollon (pronounced muggy-own) traveled through this settlement. I hope she found her man! Even though large number of travelers passed through, the migration seems to have ended here. The Anazasi people appeared to be so in tune with their environment, yet they completely vanished.

Perhaps answers can be found within the stars. In the early evening at Chaco Canyon, an observatory is opened to park visitors. In the summer, evenings are pleasant as a warm gentle breeze sweeps the desert floor with the fragrance of sweet pinion and sage. Tonight a waning moon shines brightly with the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Cassiopeia and the Milky Way.

My girlfriend remarks quietly, " Looking up into the night sky of more than a thousand stars, its as if we are looking back in time." I have to agree and wonder how it must have been for our ancestors. I have a feeling that even though it is many years later, we still have some of the same questions. How do we listen better with our hearts, try to balance out our life and still hear the beat of a drum or a child's playful cry?

How to Get to These Historic Sites

County Road 7900, Nageezi, NM:
County Road 7900, Cuba, NM 87013, USA

get directions

Chaco Canyon National Historical Park

318 Main St, Springerville, AZ:
318 East Main Street, Springerville, AZ 85938, USA

get directions

Casa Malpais Archaeological Park

Chinle, AZ:
Chinle, AZ 86503, USA

get directions

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Before Going -What You Need To Know

Chaco Canyon National Historical Park- The best time to go is in the spring or fall unless you can tolerate temperature above 100 F in July and August. Chaco Canyon is located at the end of long unpaved bumpy dirt road in Northwestern New Mexico. Accessibility is best by car coming in from the north at the town of Nageezi, New Mexico via County Road 7900. From the south, you can also take County Road 7900, (turn north at the town of Pueblo Pintado). In either direction, you will come to the junction of County Road 7950, which will take you west into the canyon. Be aware that these roads can be inaccessible in inclement weather. For more info, call (505) 786-7014.

Canyon De Chelly National Monument - Located not far from the town of Chinle, Arizona. Camp sites are available on a first come first serve basis and the historic Thunderbird Lodge is closeby. For more info call (928) 674-5500.

Casa Malpais Archaeological Park- Open year round. Tours of the site leave from the museum at 9 am, 11 am and 2 pm. Located in Springerville, Arizona at 318 E. Main Street. For more info call (928) 333-5375.


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