September 20, 2013

First stop on a four-day road trip where we drove up Hwy. 550 from Albuquerque and camped at Chaco Canyon. From the highway, had to drive something like 15-20 miles on a dirt road to get to the canyon. We didn’t think there would be many people this late in the season, but when we arrived, there were only two tent camp spots left! So we caught a break. An hour later and we would have been out of luck because they don’t take reservations (Chaco Canyon will start taking reservations for the campground on 1-1-2014). Our Senior Pass didn’t get us in free, but it was good for 1/2 off the camping fee.

I saw the PBS documentary about this place many years ago and always hoped I would get a chance to visit Chaco Canyon. The place is impressive, but Pueblo Bonito seemed much smaller than it looked in the documentary. Took the Pueblo Alto Trail to the top of the mesa so I could get some pics with a higher perspective. The first part of the trail would challenge a goat, but hiking through the narrow slot was pretty cool. At the top, it was a 3/4 mile hike over to Pueblo Bonito.

After dark, with Chaco Canyon being so far out in the country, the sky was crystal clear, so clear you could see the Milky Way in all its glory.  All the stars in the sky seemed 10x brighter than they appear when seen through the polluted air of a city.

About an hour after dark, we noticed a faint glow on the eastern horizon. Couldn’t figure out what it was. As we watched, it slowly kept getting brighter. Thought it might be a line of cars coming towards the canyon on the long dirt road. But it kept getting brighter and brighter and wider and wider and it wasn’t moving, wasn’t changing position. I was starting to think we were watching the spreading of a huge prairie fire. After about fifteen minutes of this, we saw the top part of a bright disc start slowly rising above the horizon. By that time, I was getting prepared to be cast in the sequel of Close Encounters of the Third Kind! 🙂

Turns out… it was the moon… and a full moon at that! In my entire life I have never witnessed a moon that big… and that bright… and that clear… and with all that intense glow prior to rising. This was NOT the moon you see from the city. This was THE MOON, the way we’re supposed to see it. It was surreal. I had goose bumps all over me. That was the most stunning, heavenly display I have ever seen in my entire life. How fortunate to have been there during a full moon.

And where better to experience an event like that than at Chaco Canyon… with all those Anasazi spirits floating around all over the place. It’s no wonder the moon held such importance with the Anasazi at Chaco Canyon. If you go and stay overnight, do yourself a big favor and check a lunar calendar so you can plan your trip to coincide with a full moon that rises an hour or so after sunset. And check the weather forecast to make certain you stand a good chance for clear skies. I’m serious. It will be well worth it. I got goose bumps all over again just thinking about it! 🙂

Click the first image to start the manual slide show:

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