The Isolation of Chaco Canyon

The location of Chaco makes zero sense to modern sensibilities—a wide, shallow, windswept dirt wash, not located near any known resources. The Great Houses of Chaco are truly magnificent, and almost comically impressive, but the archaeological record reveals few actual residents. Why build a 700 room building that is 4 stories high; larger than anything before or since, and not populate it? Then, while you are chewing on that, why build several more, also never occupied by more than a several dozen people? The buildings in Chaco required a total of approximately 240,000 logs, each about 60’ long. These were cut down and hand-hauled across rough, unforgiving terrain from over 50 miles away, a feat even more impressive when you consider the Anasazi Chacoans did not have the wheel or draft animals. This astounding outcome was 100% human powered. The logistics and sheer calories or energy expended staggers the imagination. And, just for fun, incalculable tons of sandstone had to be sourced, mined, shaped, and mortared together to create the masonry of the Great Houses, and all without metal tools.

The feeling of Chaco is one of complete isolation from the outside world. There is nothing to see, anywhere, which is why we have to wonder… What was life like once upon a time in Chaco Canyon?

Okay, so who were these enigmatic people that simply “vanished” in 1300? We’re all familiar with the story of the populating of the Americas when early migrations crossed the Bering Sea and began pushing through the North American continent. About 6500-1200 BC, in the Four Corners region of the southwest USA, a distinct culture began to form, pre-Anasazi, if you will. This is called the Archaic Period, and they lived a peaceful existence, with limited competition for resources. They depended on primitive farming and supplemented their diet with wild berries, nuts, and hunting. Shelter was provided by natural caves, and according to archaeologists, these pre-Anasazi peoples faced few enemies.