This was my third visit to Chaco Canyon NP. Chaco is a very special place, it's spiritual and magnetic - meaning you never feel as though you've experienced "it all". Although the ancient site is managed by the NPS and does a great job of managing the ruins, campground and trails, the park is in the middle of the Navajo Nation. The roads into Chaco test the tolerance of drivers with terribly washboard clay roads that turn into grease slides when it rains or snows. At 7000' in elevation the air is crisp and cool. The Sprinter proves it's mettle by negotiating the nasty roads with little difficulty, the longer wheelbase smooths out the ride and with everything bolted down tight (a must do during the build out) everything in the rig stays in it's designed place.
Knowing that the ancient Anasazi occupied this valley more than 1000 years ago and was the hub of commerce and activity for these nomadic peoples is intriguing and motivates one to work to better understand how and why they lived in this area for as long as they did. The canyon has ancient pathways that emanate from the center of Chaco in all directions. People from the Mesa Verde area, Aztec, Canyon D' Chelly and other compounds of the Anasazi moved to and from these areas, interestingly the roads were perfectly aligned to magnetic meridians. Their structures, of which are the primary focus of Chaco, are simply amazing. The buildings were built to astronomical star alignments. There are astronomical calendars remaining from hundreds of years ago. Ceremonial "kivas" are interspersed among the park. A few are still used by the local Navajo elders for tribal meetings and meditations.
Chaco Canyon is one of the few locations in the world that is an "International Dark Sky Park". Want to see stars, come to Chaco where the night sky reveals the billions of the stars in our universe. The Milky Way, is just that, a milky cloud of stars. When the sky is especially dark (no moon) the park opens it's doors to their telescopes. One night we were on site the rangers had two scopes out for viewing of Jupiter and our moon. With their huge magnification - well I thought I saw the footprints Neil Armstrong left!!
We spent hours photographing the ruins and each day we were usually the first into the ruins or trails and last out. One evening during sundown as we sauntered back to our campsite we were fortunate to come upon a large bull elk and his harem of nine females. We were careful to observe from a distance and enjoy this rare treat. As Jeannie moved slowly to get into a better position to "shoot" the bull took offense and started bugling, to warn her of his male dominance in this setting.
We stayed in the NPS campground. Not many campsites (@ 40) and book online waaaay in advance of your visit as this is a very popular, albeit secluded location and given the rough drive in you don't want to have this be just a day trip. Note - no potable water at the campsite, but good water to draw from at the park visitors center. We enjoyed our stay very much and will be back! Who knows maybe some time with the future grandkids!!
We could have spent another couple days exploring the area, but with a scheduled flight out of Las Vegas for Seattle in a few days it was time to break camp and continue our trek over the next mountain range to Chinle, AZ and Canyon D' Chelly NP.