Located in New Mexico, Chaco Culture National Historical Park protects what may be one of the oldest remains of civilization in North America. This pre-Columbian site consists of a group of pueblo dwellings and buildings that were built between AD 900 and 1150. Several petroglyphs, carvings, and other evidence of their presence have been found in this area. The region in which the dwellings are located is so remote that though European settlers were aware of its presence as early as 1849, it wasn’t until 1896 that archeological expeditions were sent to explore it. Chaco officially gained federal protection in 1949 as a national monument, and later as a historical park in 1980.
In this far-flung corner of New Mexico, the closest large town is Farmington, about 80 miles to the north. Visitors to Chaco Culture National Historical Park should be well-prepared for adverse conditions. There are no hotels, convenience stores, or health centers within an hour and a half of the park. The closest gas station is a few miles south of Farmington in the tiny town of Bloomfield, which is just over 50 miles from the park. Book an RV in San Juan County, and embark on a memorable RV camping adventure.
Encompassing 34,000 acres, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a prime example of arid desert beauty. High, tawny tan mesas and buttes rise from the flat, barren desert, bluntly clubbing the vivid blue sky. Hardy desert plants like yucca and rabbitbrush line the shallow hollows within the flat land, desperate for every ounce of water. There are four main trails within the park’s boundaries, totaling around 20 miles. Offshoot trails, which are not maintained by the park rangers, add another 15-odd miles to the total. All visitors should be well prepared for harsh desert conditions and carry extra water, hats, and sunscreen. Hikers should also keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and other desert wildlife.
In addition to the historical monuments, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is also known for its International Dark Sky Park. Thanks to its distance from the closest town, the night sky is extremely clear and free of light pollution. As a result of this designation, the park runs weekend programs April through October at which visitors can borrow telescopes, try out the Chaco Observatory, and get astronomy lessons from the park rangers. The park also holds an Astronomy Festival each September to mark the end of the Milky Way season.
Camping at Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Stretch out outside an RV rental and watch the stars appear in the night sky as you drift off to sleep. RV camp at Gallo Campground inside the park. There are 40 RV sites, and amenities are very limited. Guests can use a dump station should they require it. Each site is accompanied by a fire ring, which is nice for roasting smores. There are restrooms with faucet water that, in a pinch, can be used as drinking water. However, there are no hookups. Though the use of generators is permitted, they are limited to operating for only one hour per day.
Because space is at a premium, it may become necessary to look for RV camping sites outside the park. There are several thousand acres of Bureau of Land Management lands surrounding the park that are open to spontaneous camping with an RV session. However, be aware that aside from a few campgrounds with vault toilets, most of these properties have zero amenities. Extra water and fuel are highly advised.
Exploring the Area
Hop into a rental motorhome and join the other travelers on the Trails of the Ancients Byway. Starting in Farmington, NM, it follows a meandering route south, passing through several small towns like Newcomb, Rock Springs, and San Rafael, NM. Along the way, pass by beautiful sites like the El Morro National Monument, where over 2,000 signatures and etchings have been found, the Bandera Ice Cave and Volcano near Grants. The route hooks sharply and takes explorers back north, toward Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
On the fringes of Farmington and Bloomfield, NM, are a couple of casinos. SunRay Park and Casino boasts hundreds of state-of-art slot machines, video blackjack, delicious food, and a live horse racetrack. Its sister casino, Northern Edge Casino, has features poker tables and live music in addition to its slot machines.
Find history, beautiful landscape, and fun in New Mexico by renting an Airstream and embarking on a memorable RV camping trip at Chaco Culture National Historical Park with family and friends.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, NM is the perfect spot to start your next road trip.
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