Remote desert still makes Chaco Culture National Historical Park one of least visited places in USA. Containing the most sweeping collection of ancient ruins north of Mexico, the park preserves one of the most important pre-Columbian cultural and historical areas in USA. Between AD 900 and 1150, Chaco Canyon became a major center of culture for the Ancestral Puebloans. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes including Pueblo Bonito, that remained the largest building ever built in North America until the 19th century. Many Chacoan buildings may have been aligned to capture the solar and lunar cycles. Most accepted theory of why these sites have led to the emigration of Chacoans and the eventual abandonment of the canyon, was climate change beginning with a fifty-year drought commencing in 1130. Comprising a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the arid and sparsely populated Four Corners region, the Chacoan cultural sites are fragile. The sites are considered sacred ancestral homelands by people of 12 Pueblo tribes including Hopi, who maintain oral accounts of their historical migration from Chaco and their spiritual relationship to the land.
Salmon Ruins is an ancient Chacoan and Pueblo site located 72 km north of Pueblo Bonito of Chaco Canyon, on the north bank of the San Juan River, just to the west of the modern town of Bloomfield. Salmon was constructed by migrants from Chaco Canyon around 1090 CE, with aaproximatel 300rooms spread across three stories, an elevated tower kiva in its central portion, and a great kiva in plaza. Subsequent use by local Middle San Juan people (beginning in the 1120s) resulted in extensive modifications to the original building, with the reuse of hundreds of rooms, division of many of the original large, Chacoan rooms into smaller rooms, and emplacement of more than 20 small kivas into pueblo rooms and plaza areas. The site was occupied by ancient Ancestral Puebloans until the 1280s, when much of the site was destroyed by fire and abandoned.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument preserves one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, protecting not only ruins of the indigenous tribes that lived in the area, from the Ancestral Puebloans (formerly known as Anasazi) to the Navajo, but maybe more importantly the heart of Navajo Nation spritual worl. The monument covers 339.3 km2 and encompasses the floors and rims of the three major canyons: de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument. These canyons were cut by streams with headwaters in the Chuska Mountains just to the east of the monument. Canyon de Chelly served as a home for Navajo people before it was invaded by forces led by Col. Kit Carson in 1863. The destruction of the Navajo camps, crops and supplies came at a crucial time for the Navajo. Cold, hungry and tired, many realized they would not be killed or captured by the soldiers if they came in peacefully. Delgado tried to convince others to surrender by reminding them of food, blankets and protection at the army forts. Manuelito was one of a few who never surrendered and fled into Hopi lands. By the summer of 1864 Carson had accepted the largest Native American surrender in history – nearly 8,000 people had surrendered and were soon forced to march to the Bosque Redondo reservation (or death camp as it was inttended to destroy the people). The deadly journey became known as the Long Walk of the Navajo. In 1868, after four years of exile, the Navajo were allowed to return to their homeland. Canyon de Chelly is entirely owned by the Navajo Tribal Trust of the Navajo Nation. It is the only National Park Service unit that is owned and cooperatively managed in this manner. About 40 Navajo families live in the park cultivating traditional life. Access to the canyon floor is restricted, and visitors are allowed to travel in the canyons only when accompanied by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo guide with the exception being the White House Ruin Trail. The park’s distinctive geologic feature, Spider Rock, is a sandstone spire that rises 229 m from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. Spider Rock can be seen from South Rim Drive. According to traditional Navajo beliefs, the taller of the two spires is the home of Spider Grandmother. In the Diné Bahaneʼ creation narrative of the Navajo and other legends she is the one who, creates people, introduces the spindle and the loom, aids and protects people against monsters. She is also the one who creates stars on the night sky.