top of page

Chaco Canyon

by Christopher Dow




Tucked in the broad, dry valley of Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico, a civilization flourished for centuries. It’s architects built their structures to last, with intricate and refined stone walls that both sheltered and aligned along mystic currents dictated by the paths of the sun and moon across the greater desert of stars. Though we do not know exactly who these people were or why they built these buildings as they did, the monuments show that their builders thought and planned for some future.


But what was it they thought? For what future did they plan? We probably will never know, but we do know some of the sounds they made. There were cries of infants and wheezes of infirmity, howls of triumph and screams of pain, moans of lovers and sighs of loneliness, babbles of anticipation and hushes of excitement.


Then, suddenly, it was over. The people of Chaco Canyon, it seems, just vanished, leaving only their stone buildings littering the landscape like the exposed skeletons of unknown creatures huge enough to have shaken the earth but fragile enough to have passed forever. This was the future they’d built for. And though the buildings are decaying imperceptibly beneath the sandy fingers of the desert winds, many of them still stand strong, even after a millennium of neglect.


And there is something else about the buildings that is as durable as the adamancy of their stone. It is their strangeness. It speaks in a voice too hushed to comprehend about the mysteries of the culture that erected these complexes—a strangeness that has transcended and outlasted the culture. Even in the bright sunlight, the buildings are dark, brooding, and somber, and the meticulously ordered walls hide mazes of passageways and rooms that seem as much like prison cells as habitat—passages and rooms where even the lost find no answers.


Where are those who lived here—the people who rose from nowhere to create this maze that yet puzzles before returning to whence they came? Probably their remnants spread outward to build, in progressive declensions of space, time, and sophistication the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde and the adobe structures of the American Southwest.


But if the people themselves have gone, their spirits remain. I have seen them in the nearby dark, sheer, barren rock hills that rise like eidetic shoals from dusty seas of desert’s forgetfulness. Etched in those rocks is a multitude of pareidolial faces, jumbled and often weird and haunted. Nature alone could not have created this massively anthropomorphic landscape. The winds and cutting sands that carved it could only have been channeled by the ghosts of the architects whose exodus left arcane ruins lying lifeless, forgotten, and alone in their broad, dry valley.

bottom of page