Following the trail of the Ancient Puebloans

We continued on to New Mexico, were there are, hidden in a vast landscape of bare plains and hills, the ruins of ancient Native-American settlements. Some of the most impressive examples of their high culture architecture can be found in Chaco Canyon, a UNESCO world-heritage site. Regardless of that status one has to take a dirt road to get there, but it is well worth the trip!



I had had absolutely no idea of the kind of culture that had developed in North America more than a 1000 years ago, but what I saw was astonishing: They had built houses out of only stone and wood, without having metal tools nor even wheels to assist them in their ambitious task.



And what was left of these buildings still gave a good impression of the greatness that these structures once must have had: They were not just dwelling houses, but “Great Houses”, cultural centers where the people of the time probably gathered for the purpose of trade or religious ceremonies. Houses as big as a village, with more than a hundred rooms, several stories high. And the walls, built with custom-cut stones and big tree trunks (that had been carried there from places far away!), were still in superb condition.


We spent the whole day looking at a number of these buildings and marveling at the ingenuity of their constructors. At sunset we were still out; it was absolutely quiet and peaceful, and I could almost feel the energy of that place…


The next day we continued to explore this ancient culture. We went to Aztec, where another of these Great Houses had been found and reconstructed (in a not quite authentic way).

Then, in South-western Colorado we made our last stop, at Mesa Verde. Here the ancient people had settled in a mountainous landscape and had built cliff dwellings which came close to the architectural perfection of the Great houses at Chaco Canyon.




When we left that evening I was somewhat overwhelmed with what I had learned these past two days: There had been this high culture right in the middle of the U.S. and I had never even heard about it. It had been exciting to learn about their architecture, their culture, and their way of life, but many questions had not been answered by the elaborate descriptions in the visitor centers or by the rangers. What had happened to that culture? Why had they abandoned their settlements? And where had they left to?

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