chaco canyon park

The wind howled out at Chaco Canyon park all day Wednesday, February 19, 2014.  I spent the day hiking around in the wind.  But by three in the afternoon a huge cloud of dust was moving up the canyon from the southwest.  It looked like one mean, angry pile of cold blowing dirt heading my way.

This is a picture of Pueblo del Arroyo just as the dust storm hit, obscuring the sun and driving me to look for shelter.

I grabbed my pack and ran across the way into Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the ruins, where I knew there were rooms still completely covered, and took shelter there.  The picture below is from my hideout. It wasn’t just a passing dust storm and eventually I had to leave the ruin and walk in the storm down to where I left my car.

~ ~ ~

I have a long history with Chaco Canyon National Historic Park. The first time I visited I was 15 years old.  That was 1986.  I’ve come back dozens of times since, hiking every trail multiple times, camping out, exploring the backcountry and for a while working on an archaeological project that surveyed areas just outside the park.

Chaco is really unlike any other place in North America. Something wildly different happened there and researchers STILL don’t understand what it was.  In fact, most of them kind of gave up on figuring out what did take place at the Chaco Canyon park – and so the “Chaco mystery” was born.

The giving up was less a failure of science and more a failure of imagination coupled with a prejudice inherent in the old anthropology.

I’ll write more about that in a future post.

~ ~ ~

In the evening, the wind and the dust were still too much to cook.  I couldn’t find a place to get my Coleman stove lit and I really wanted a warm cup of soup.

Luckily, the only other visitors to the park, a retired couple from Grand Junction, Colorado invited me into their camper to heat my soup and share some wine.  They had a giant four-year old Golden Retriever who quickly became my best friend.  We talked while the wind beat on the camper.

Later, I lay in the back of my car (umm…forgot to pack my tent….) all bundled up in my sleeping bag and wool clothing while the wind rocked the car like a teeter-totter.

Sometime in the night it stopped blowing and the temperature dropped ten or more degrees.  I woke up the find the windows inside the car coated in frost.

chaco canyon park



  1. Comment by Jess Van Wickel

    Jess Van Wickel Reply February 22, 2014 at 2:27 am

    I can feel the wind and grit from the dust in my minds-eye from your blog. Reminds me of overnight early spring camping along the Snake River near Bruneau Sand Dunes in the 70's. Love your stories Jim O', well illustrated!

  2. Comment by Clifford Mueller

    Clifford Mueller Reply February 22, 2014 at 3:03 am

    I bet not that many folks have climbed the Bruneau Sand Dunes and explored Chaco Canyon. I enjoyed them both and am going to Chaco again this May.

  3. Comment by Laura Medicus

    Laura Medicus Reply February 22, 2014 at 3:15 am

    I've never been to Chaco; your photo's made me look it up and we'll be taking a camping trip down there this Spring. Great story, great photo's!

  4. Comment by Mary Padgett

    Mary Padgett Reply February 21, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Dear Jim,

    I can’t decide whether I love the way you tell the story or the pictures better!!! They are both interesting, captivating, intriguing!! Keep up the good work.

  5. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply February 25, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Laura you will have to go! I cant wait to take the kids back once it warms up.

  6. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply February 25, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Thanks Jess! Isnt it true that often times these harsh weather experiences make for the most memorable events? I havent been up on the Snake. I'd love to go!

  7. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply February 25, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Sounds like some great adventures Clifford Mueller. Maybe I'll see you back at Chaco in May.

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