The Place Beyond The Horizon

In a little over two weeks, I will depart for a visit to Chaco Canyon, in northwestern New Mexico. It will be twenty years, in September, since my previous visit to Chaco, and I am looking forward to what this trip will bring –both spiritually and artistically. On my previous visit, in September of 1995, I took a series of digital panorama images with an Apple Quicktake 100 camera and a bulky panorama rig, and on this trip, I plan on taking high resolution digital panoramas with a considerably more sophisticated kit of technology. The images below are re-framings from the 1995 panoramas. Following the images is text adapted from a book that I am currently producing about Chaco Canyon and the Quicktake images.

I look forward to sharing with you the fruits of the 2015 expedition in the coming weeks.

Pueblo Bonitio looking northwest (click image to enlarge)

Pueblo Bonitio looking southeast (click image to enlarge)

The Great Kiva at Chetro Ketl looking west (click image to enlarge)

Yupkoyvi: The Place Beyond The Horizon

I first visited Chaco Canyon in September of 1995. I was traveling with the first consumer digital camera: the Apple Quicktake 100, a somewhat primitive digital device that resembled a visual scanner from Star Trek. It took 24 bit color images at a 640 x 480 pixel resolution, and required a frequent connection to a laptop, since its 1 MB of flash memory stored only 8 images and there was no removable media. Using the Quicktake and a specially designed panorama rig, I captured a series of single images and panorama scenes of the central area of the canyon, sometimes referred to, by archaeologists, as “Downtown Chaco”. Revisiting these images, after nearly 20 years, they have a quality of digital antiquity that seems somehow apropos to the muted monumental ruins of the canyon. The photos are presented here as they were taken in 1995, with the only enhancements being a re-processing of the color, and cropping of the panoramas.

Chaco Canyon: the Hopi call this place of their ancestors Yupkoyvi: the place beyond the horizon. Between the mid-9th century and mid-12th century CE something remarkable emerged high on the Colorado Plateau: a religious-political-commercial nexus, covering over 30,000 square miles, with Chaco Canyon at its geographical and cultural center. What is known of the people of Chaco Canyon is what can be deduced from the significant, but sparse, archaeological evidence and from the culture and oral traditions of their descendants –the modern-day pueblo peoples.

It is known the the Chacoans were sophisticated hydrologists and agriculturalists, creating gardens in the desert. They were extraordinary architects and builders: constructing large multi-floor complexes using innovative masonry techniques. And, they were skilled artists who created timelessly beautiful black-on-white pottery and inlayed turquoise jewelry. Theirs was a cosmopolitan culture that maintained trade relationships far beyond the San Juan Basin –to the west coast of North America, and to the high cultures of Mesoamerica.

Chaco Canyon was the center of a culture that spread across the San Juan Basin and into the surrounding mountains. The core of the canyon contains seven "great houses" within a few square mile area. There are dozens of great house communities within a day's walking distance, and well over one hundred great house communities within a hundred mile radius of the core. The extended Chacoan civilization was connected by a network of roadways and signaling stations, and the ruins of the great houses provide evidence of the movement of a high volume of materials and goods. The Pueblo Ancestors were a sophisticated people.

One hundred years of archaeological and anthropological study has revealed a great deal about Chaco Canyon, and the oral traditions of modern Pueblo and Navajo peoples provide many clues. Still, much less is known than is unknown, and Chaco Canyon remains beyond our horizon.

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