Solstice at Chaco provides window into ancient life

Navajo Times | Adron Gardner
Star trails streak over Chaco Canyon National Historical Park June 21.

CHACO CULTURE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, N.M.

As the shortest night of the year settles over the campground at Chaco Canyon, sound echoes off the pictograph-laden canyon walls: the ping of rocks on tent stakes, excited voices, and of course someone has brought a Native flute and another camper a drum.

It begs the questions, what was this place like on June 21, 1117? Were the pilgrims as noisy as they are today when all they had to do was unfurl a bedroll of animal skins and handwoven cotton? Were children this … exuberant in ancient times? Did they have dogs, and did they bark? Did they complain about the long walk over the hot desert sand in yucca sandals the way several modern campers are complaining about the drive over 30 miles of washboardy dirt road?

Or was this longest day of the year a silent, prayerful time, with the broiling sun about to retreat and the promise of moisture ahead?

We may never know, but one thing is clear: The summer solstice — the longest day of the year, when the Northern Hemisphere begins to tilt away from the sun because of the earth’s rotation on its axis — still draws people to Chaco from all over the country and across the sea. And experiencing Chaco at its Chaco-est is the nearest most of us will get to seeing life through the eyes of Ancestral Puebloans.

(In fact, if you’re a traditional Navajo and don’t believe in hanging out in Anasazi dwellings, reading this article may be as close as you get.)


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Categories: Culture
Tags: Chaco Canyon

About Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi’ Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at editor@navajotimes.com.