Chaco Cultural HIstoric Park, New Mexico.  Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico. One of the most enigmatic archaeological sites of the ancestral Puebloans, found in one of the most remote and rugged parts of the American Southwest.

Chaco Cultural HIstoric Park, New Mexico. Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico. One of the most enigmatic archaeological sites of the ancestral Puebloans, found in one of the most remote and rugged parts of the American Southwest.

Photo by: Ian Shive

Ian Shive

Explore the Rugged, Remote Chaco Canyon in New Mexico

Photographer and conservationist Ian Shive photographs one of the most remote and rugged parts of the United States to take us on a journey to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico's Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

February 24, 2023

If you love America’s National Park System, as I do, you are probably familiar with places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Everglades and Zion National Park. Epic icons that encapsulate some of the most wondrous marvels of the natural world. But aside from the 63 full-fledged parks, there are 424 park units that are no less important or spectacular, but often are not as well known (or if they are well known, like the Statue of Liberty, most people don’t realize they are managed by the National Park Service!).

Nature in Focus | Explore New Mexico's Chaco Canyon

Nature in Focus | Explore New Mexico's Chaco Canyon
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Chaco Culture National Historic Park is one such place, and one of the most enigmatic places that has captured my imagination since childhood. Once the center of the ancient world in what is now New Mexico, the massive buildings of the Ancestral Puebloan people are a testament to their incredible engineering abilities. Construction took place generally between 840 and 1250 A.D. and so enormous are these earthen structures, that they remained the largest buildings in North America until the 18th century, nearly 600 years later.

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As a photographer, it is a wonderful example of how capturing more than just nature and wildlife is important in telling the complete story of our National Park System. Historic structures, such as Chaco, played a central role in the first people to inhabit these lands, and continue to play a vital role in Native American culture today.

The narrow passages, the massive stone kiva or ceremonial structures, and even the remote and rugged location itself make for a mesmerizing photographic subject. The parks remoteness also means the skies here are some of the darkest in the world, with it being designated as an International Dark Sky Park back in 2013. What’s a dark sky? Check out my past vlog with the International Dark-Sky Association.

If you manage to pass the 20+ miles of rough, muddy, slippery roads to explore Chaco, remember that this is sacred ground. Take only photographs, leave only footprints. Do not stand on the rock walls or remove anything. There are still stories to be told here in the desert sands, and to those who still consider Chaco a part of their culture, it is important we all show it respect. Of course be sure to enjoy and if you can, camp out in the campground and enjoy the incredible night sky!

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