Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Mexico Ghosts: Chaco Canyon


Chaco Canyon is located in the northwestern corner of New Mexico on the San Juan Basin near Four Corners. For four hundred years from AD 850 to 1250 Chaco Canyon was a major urban center for the prehistoric Anasazi Indians. Chaco was remarkable for its monumental public and ceremonial stone buildings, engineering projects, astronomy, artistic achievements, and distinctive architecture. The Chaco Pueblos were the cultural and spiritual center for the San Juan Basin.

Chaco Canyon also was the hub for trade and administration for the surrounding 75 pueblos and settlements, which were linked by 400 roads, some as long as 250 miles, to the canyon. The canyon’s bottomland was used for crops which were supported by a sophisticated irrigation system of reservoirs, canals, ditches, and diversion walls that channeled water from rains and the swift flowing river that nourished life in the now dry canyon. Chaco Canyon was unlike anything before or since—considering it was at its peak during Europe’s Dark Ages.

By 1000 AD there were as many as 6,000 people living in some 400 settlements and towns (pueblos) in and around Chaco. The most interesting include: Fajada Butte, which was considered sacred by the Anasazi. They created an astronomical observatory there, now known as Sun Dagger, and left behind mysterious etchings on stones at the site.

Pueblo Bonito, one of the “Great Houses” is a five-story, eight-hundred-room cliff dwelling built around 900 AD on the canyons north wall. It contains thirty-seven kivas and is situated to take advantage of solar energy. It is estimated that it took 60 million pieces of hand trimmed and carefully fitted sandstone to build its walls. This was all done without metal tools or precision instruments. Many of these walls still stand which is a tribute to its skilled builders.

The partial excavated Una Vida has one hundred rooms and eight kivas. Chetro Ketl located four hundred yards from Pueblo Bonito has five hundred rooms and sixteen kivas it has an unusual E-shape and its rear wall is 1,000 feet long. Casa Riconada one of the great kivas, located opposite Pueblo Bonito was used for worship and magical initiation. This perfectly round structure is sixty-six feet in diameter and fourteen feet deep. Its uniform wall niches provided storage for religious and ceremonial objects.

Psychics consider Chaco Canyon to be one of the centers of Harmonic Convergence on the planet.

The word kiva means, “world below.” A kiva is a subterranean circular room with a fire pit in the center that the Pueblo Indians used as a place of refuse. It was a safe place “where the sipapu” meets the sky”—where the past meets the future. The smaller kivas were used as “living rooms” they were the focal point for the clans where they met to discuss community business, smoke, stay cool in summer and warm in winter, while relaxing. They were also used as holy places at certain times of the year. Women were not allowed in the kivas except to bring food and observe some of the ceremonies.

A “sipapu” is a Hopi word that refers to a small shallow hole in the floor of the kiva; it symbolizes a portal used by the Indian’s ancestors to enter this world and to remind the living of their origin earth. So kivas were the place Anasazi’s made contact with the spirits of their ancestors that inhabit the underworlds.

Chaco Cultural National Historic Park has seventy-five ancient structures and it spans 35,000 acres. The Chaco Anasazi’s were maize farmers not warriors. Among the ruins it is rare to find spearheads or arrowheads. Anasazi craftsmen processed turquoise brought from distant mines into exquisite necklaces, bracelets, and pendants.

It is not known for sure why the Anasazi’s abandoned Chaco Canyon but the widely held belief is that natural climatic changes were the cause. A drought plagued the region from 1130 to 1180. Another possible reason is the area essentially became deforested which meant the residents had to walk many miles to obtain firewood in the mountains. There are also many signs the soil became over-cultivated. Continuous irrigation over the centuries without any form of soil enrichment caused the land to choke with alkali. By the 1200s these great stone pueblos lay deserted.

The Anasazi’s didn’t disappear like some cultures, they instead moved from Chaco further into New Mexico, west to Arizona and north into Colorado. All 20 of the Pueblos in New Mexico today have Native Americans that are descended from the Anasazi. The Hopi Native Americans also have ancestors from Chaco. The Navajo Indians in New Mexico and Arizona have ceremonies, place names, and stories that reflect that the some Anasazi from Chaco must have assimilated into their culture as well.

The Pueblo people, the Hopis, and the Navajo’s do not consider Chaco Canyon “abandoned.” They believe instead that the spirits of their ancestors still inhabit Chaco. For years they fought to convince the National Park Service to stop excavating and preserving Chaco Canyon. They feel Chaco being the home of their ancestors is sacred ground. Their stance is that “Chaco’s houses, rocks, trees, and spirits should be allowed to go back to the earth.” In the past the Park Service’s attempts at preservation stopped this natural sacred process.

Today the region’s Native Americans have won for now the Park Service understands and have ceased their attempts to keep Chaco as it once was. In fact they have backfilled or “reburied rooms” to show their respect for these Native American beliefs.

Within the canyon visitors and employees have seen the apparition of a strange “naked spirit.” He is described as very tall, wearing no clothes and he is seen emerging from the sipapu, the sacred holes in the ground in the ceremonial kivas at Chaco. These sightings fit with what the Native Americans already know—for this giant figure is entering from the other side. This phantom is also seen bathed in a blue light and dripping with moisture. Once a park ranger even tried to arrest this spirit for indecent exposure only to see this giant man disappear into thin air. The Hopi’s believe this figure is “genius loci,” a spirit that feeds off the energies of mother earth. Other spirits of the Anasazi people are sensed in the canyon as well.

There are many places at Chaco today where tourists cannot enter. One is Fajada Butte, which is closed to all access. It is considered too fragile. The great kivas also are off limits. But many people camp in Chaco and quite a few have picked up interesting EVP’s around the canyon. Note: many of these are in the various Anasazi languages—Tewa, Tiwa, Keresan, Zuni, and Hopi. 

One young man who visited Chaco recently experienced something rather unique. He was camping in Chaco when at sunset he heard ceremonial chanting coming from what appeared to be one of the ruins in the cliff dwellings. He grabbed his camera and headed for the sound. As he approached he saw a very short statured man with a broad head standing to the side of one remaining wall. When he tried to take pictures his camera batteries went dead. He ran back to retrieve his video camera but when he returned the sounds and apparition where no longer there.

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