The Anasazi, who were named by the Navajos, knew how to chart the seasons by observing the sky. The biggest mystery of Chaco Canyon is why the Anasazi decided to leave the home that they had built over so many years. the one thing that is quite interesting is that they were able to construct such a magnificent piece of architecture without the use of metal tools or any devices with wheels.


Chimney Rock is located about 20 miles west of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The construction is composed mainly of sandstone which was laid there more than 65 million years ago. The district that Chimney Rock is located in consists of 6.12 square miles, has 91 identified areas with a total of 217 different structures. Most of these areas were grouped into 7 communities that are located at various places within the district. The Anasazi Indians lived in the Piedra Valley beginning about the tine of Christ.

Most of them lives at lower elevations near the fields and they farmed along the water beds, but some moved up onto the higher parts of Chimney Rock Mesa around 925 A.D. They may have moved higher to avoid the cold sink effect that made the lower areas colder in the winter, or they may have moved higher to utilize winter snow as a water source. Still, most of the fields they planted in spring were along the waterways on the floor of the valley or on terraces in the valleys above the river. At Chimney Rock the people grew corn and beams, but no squash.

Although squash was a mainstay of their people in other areas, the growing season was probably too short in this region for squash to mature before it was killed by frost. The population of Chimney Rock is estimated to have been between 1200 and 2000 people. The local Anasazi built in the Northern San Juan Style, each family or extended family building its own home. The masonry was similar to that in the structures at Mesa Verde. Great kivas were built in almost every major Anasazi site between 900 and 1200 A.D. One of the several great kivas at Chimney Rock has been excavated. These large structures probably served for community gatherings and rituals. Fourteen storage chambers, were found in the floor of this Great Kiva, presumably for the storage of ceremonial paraphernalia. Although this Great Kiva has some unique features, it probably was built according to a general plan used by all the Anasazi. Ninety miles to the south, some of the Anasazi were creating a new kind of society in Chaco Canyon. Instead of the scattered type of dwellings found in most Anasazi communities at that time, the people at Chaco were building pueblos or great houses. This is Pueblo Bonito. They also created more than 400 miles of roads leading to outlying settlements, or colonies.

Chaco seems to have been a focal point in the trading of turquoise from many areas of the Southwest with the civilizations in Central America. In 1076 the Chacoans built a great house on Chimney Rock Mesa. Their pueblo was high above the others, the highest Anasazi settlement known anywhere, and the most northeastern of the sites colonized by the Chacoans. Some Chacoan colonies seem to have been built in positions where they could see the fires of other colonies at night , or, perhaps, send signals to each other. The people of Taos Pueblo in New Mexico claim Chimney Rock as one of their ancestral homes and say that the two rocks pinnacles are a shrine to the Twin Was Gods. The Anasazi were interested in calendrical astronomy as a means to tell when to plant their crops. Religious ceremonies were related to movements of sun, moon and stars in the heavens, just as the same movements as changes of seasons determined their lives.

At Chimney Rock they found a natural lunar observatory. Every 18 years the full moon rises between the two pinnacles as viewed from the village. This occurs at the time of lunar standstill, the time when the moon rises at its furthest point north of east. The Chacoan pueblo at Chimney Rock may have been a prehistoric research institute, similar in part to Stonehenge in Great Britain. Dr. Frank Eddy, who has excavated some Chimney Rock sites, feels that the colonists who moved here may have been priests, all male, because they brought only masculine talents with them; for example, the style of masonry, a man’s task, is clearly Chacoan. However, the residents of Chimney Rock did not produce typical Chacoan pottery, a woman’s occupation. Replicas of pots found at Chimney Rock Produced by Clint Swink, a local potter who specializes in making copies of Anasazi pottery, show a Chacoan style pot, proving that there was ongoing trade between the two social centers.

Other artifacts found at Chaco Canyon but made at Chimney Rock Reinforce the trade and cultural links. Evidence that the Chacoan pueblo was planned and built as a whole is shown by the continuous rear wall. The masonry was laid down on bedrock, leading archaeologists to believe that the stones and the dirt used for the mud mortar were hauled up from below. The Chacoans stayed at Chimney Rock for only about 50 years. Their pueblo was abandoned no later than 1125 A.D. It is thought that the other residents deserted the region at about the same time. Both the pueblo and the village buildings were burned about the same time. Chaco Canyon itself was abandoned over a period of years between 1130 and 1150 A.D. The Anasazi moved frequently when local resources became depleted. Even the stunning cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde were occupied for less than a century. However, the cause of their abandoning the entire Colorado Plateau was probably due to a severe drought that occurred between 1276 and 1299. When the rains failed to come, their agriculture faltered and they were forced to leave. The Anasazi must have abandoned this homeland reluctantly. The former inhabitants of Chimney Rock may have moved to the Rio Grande area to join the Taos Pueblo, or they may have been one of the groups that temporarily reoccupied Chacoan ghost towns.

For example, the ruins at Aztec, New Mexico were built by people from Chaco about 1100, abandoned by 1150, but reoccupied and remodeled by Northern San Juan Anasazis from 1200 to nearly 1300 A.D. Some interesting evidence recently discovered by Dr. Kim Malville at Mesa Verde may show that some Chimney Rock Anasazi moved there after leaving their homes below the pinnacles. Today Chimney Rock is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It was made a National Historic Site in 1970. In 1987 afire lookout tower that had been abandoned in the 1950’s was rebuilt. The tower provides a viewpoint comparable to the one that the Chacoans must have had from the top of their two-storied pueblo. Ranger-led tours are the only way to wee the ruins. The area is closed except for tours to preserve the delicate structures and to protect critical wildlife habitat. Visitors from all parts of the country and across the world are intrigued by the archaeological mysteries of Chimney Rock. Special occasions, such as the annual open house or a moonrise talk by Dr. Kin Malville, who originated the theory of the importance of the lunar standstill at Chimney Rock, attract late crowds.


Greer, William W. Chaco Canyon. Johnson Books 1995. Boulder, Colorado 80302

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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