Chaco Canyon: Pueblo Pintado

Pueblo Pintado_sm
Pueblo Pentado panorama from the southeast (click to enlarge)

A year ago, I was in New Mexico photographing the landscape and monumental ruins of Chaco Canyon.  This is one of my very favorite places, and yet when I speak to people, whom I know or meet, about Chaco Canyon very few have ever heard of it, despite the fact that this one small area in northeastern New Mexico contains one of only a handful of Cultural World Heritage sites, and the most monumental of pre-columbian ruins, in the United States.  Over the next few weeks, I'd like to share some of that imagery, and a bit of knowledge about Chaco Canyon.  In this week's post, I will begin with Pueblo Pintado.

Chaco Canyon is an ancient cultural center of the ancestral Pueblo people.  It is located in the San Jaun Basin in Northeastern New Mexico.  Within a 100 square miles there are a dozen monumental structures, referred to as "Great Houses", and hundreds of smaller structures and settlements.  While the function of the great houses is much debated among archeologists, they can be thought of as the walled towns at the center of settlements that contained workshops, food storage, ceremonial spaces, and dwelling units for multiple families.  At the core of the canyon, sometimes referred to as “Downtown Chaco”, there are eight great houses within a few square miles. This was clearly the center of a very significant cultural phenomenon that blossomed and faded between 850 CE and 1250 CE.  

Pueblo Pintado Satellite
Satellite view of Pueblo Pentado (Mapbox) The overall structure is a D shape defined by two perpendicular building blocks on the north and west, and an enclosing courtyard wall to the south and east,

The first of these great houses to be 'discovered' by Europeans was Pueblo Pintado, at the southeastern headwaters of Chaco Wash, about 13 miles from Downtown Chaco.  It was discovered by Lieutenant James H. Simpson in 1849 when an expedition led by Navajo guides, explored the canyon.  (The Spanish may have visited Chaco Canyon at an earlier date, but the records of Spanish occupation, prior to 1680, were destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt where an uprising of indigenous peoples caused the Spaniards to flee for their lives, south through the Rio Grande valley, from their headquarters in Santa Fe.)

Tree-ring dating of the timbers at Pueblo Pintado indicate that the great house was constructed, in a single building cycle, around 1060 CE, relatively late in the Chacoan settlement-building period.  The structure was three stories in height, constructed of local sandstone and hundreds of timbers (carried, without wheel or beast of burden, from 80 miles away!) and contained 135 rooms plus a 'great kiva' –a round, roofed community ceremonial space.  

Pueblo Pintado 1
The northwest corner of Pueblo Pentado

When my traveling companion David F. Boyd (no relation, but that is another story) and I first visited Pintado, on our way into Chaco Canyon, we were forced to retreat by a flash flood that made the primitive roads of the Navajo Reservation impassible, even to our borrowed Land Rover.  We returned, on a beautiful sunny day, on our way out of the Canyon, to the spectacular site of the great house, with 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape, overlooking Chaco Wash.  

Pueblo Pintado 3
The kiva at the hinge of the two main building blocks of Pueblo Pentado. This is not the great kiva, which can be seen in the satellite view directly south of the west block, outside of the wall but a smaller kiva that was clearly central to life inside of the pueblo.

These photos were captured with a Nikon d7100, and the panoramas were created from multiple images, captured using a rotational tripod head, and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

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