"The sky begins at your feet."
The birthplace of North American modern culture begins right here in Nageezi, New Mexico. We just are a few hours from Santa Fe running hard on beat up backroads. These chunky dirt dusty pathways are the only way in and they are methodically beating the crap out of our fancy 4x4 as we go. My travel pendulum has now fully swung from a colorful Italy trip last month to ancient Chaco Culture, located within a timeless and sacred landscape. Chaco was a major center of ancestral gathering between 850 and 1250AD. Today, we are standing deep inside Pueblo Bonito its widely acknowledged centerpiece of Chaco. It is desolate, tourist-free and ever so slightly humming with some weird detectable energy.
Yes, you can actually feel it. The wind blows though you, the sun beats down and there is this faint audible hum as oily black birds ride the thermals above.
Luckily, we have a ringer in our midst to make sense of it all. Seasoned archeologist Paul Reed has spent a good part of his 40 year career right here - sifting through the remains of native stories, pottery sherds and rubble (don’t call it ruins) making sense of multiple overlapping tribal narratives and scientific studies, all plausible, but none precisely align to unlock an elusive truth that remains held within oral tradition.
Via his research and hard work, Paul has seen and heard it all over the years. He is a towering presence and he wears it well with a deep baritone full of rich interpretation, and always punctuating his points with a resonant chuckle. Paul has skillfully probed every possible angle of reason to give meaning to what might have occurred here right below our feet, over 1000 years ago. He is a master of unraveling the giant hairball of unknowns, separating fact from fiction.
This we do know - Chaco was a vibrant community shaped by the dark skies as much by the light. This is international dark sky country - UNESCO certified, goddammit! Ancestors skillfully learned to map the intersection of the heavens + inner earth. Archeo-astronomy is in full play here, combining solar, lunar and cardinal orientations to precisely locate and design each structure. Chaco buildings come alive at the celestial solstice.
I knew moving to New Mexico was about getting back in touch with the earth beyond the constructed cities I grew up in but this place is off the charts amazing. Its an immense sky-filled vista out here, where nature's magic unfolds daily - sun, clouds, lightning, heat, blowing winds - all in one effin' afternoon.
Paul offers that ancient sun + moon observers carefully mapped celestial activities and used them to their advantage: for crops, ceremony, procreation and community gathering. (Not all in one afternoon.) Most sites in the Southwest have 3-5 ceremonial circular kivas dug into the ground for sacred ceremonies.
Chaco has 32.
Awe-inspiring and humbling, this place is a perfectly designed intersection of earth + sky. Precise within inches. And a perfect reminder to make your place in the world.