Pueblo Bonito

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 0.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 6129 - 6205 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 45 mins.
Trailhead: Pueblo Bonito
Fee: $8/vehicle
Attractions: Chacoan Great House




View Pueblo Bonito in a larger map

Pueblo Bonito is located in the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico. The area is commonly referred to simply as Chaco Canyon. The only recommended way to access Chaco Canyon is from the north. Drive southeast from Bloomfield on US Highway 550 for about 39 miles, or west from Cuba, New Mexico for about 50 miles, and turn south on CR 7900. The turnoff is at about mile marker 112.5. There is a large brown sign at the turnoff making it easy to find. From 550 follow the signs for 21 miles to Chaco Canyon. The first 8 miles of the road are paved but then it turns to gravel. Heavy rains can make the road all but impassable. The first 9 miles of the dirt road can usually be driven around 35 MPH. After that the road gets rougher for a mile or two, but still accessible by passenger cars, with some improvement the closer you get to the park. The roads within the park are all paved. Rangers report that vehicles heading to the park from the south can run into trouble and need towed.


The trailhead is located 4.5 miles west of the Visitor Center along the paved 9 mile Canyon Loop Drive. Besides the flush toilets at the Visitor Center there is also a vault toilet at the parking area. The parking area is shared between the Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl trails so there are 2 sites to visit here that are connected by a petroglyph trail that runs along the cliff and the main trails from the parking area.


Trail guides are normally available to borrow or purchase at the trailhead. To be sure of getting one you might want to purchase your personal copy for 75 cents at the Visitor Center.


Pueblo Bonito is the largest of the Chacoan Great Houses. The more than 600 room structure towered as high as 4 and 5 stories. Most of the rooms were used for community purposes with only a few used for living quarters.


The path directs visitors around the east side of the ruin where large portions of the highest walls are still standing.


In 1941 a large pillar of rock broke off from the cliff and landed on the northeast corner of the ruin. The Park Service in dealing with this obstacle has engineered a very nice trail up and over the rubble and created a viewpoint where visitors can get a closeup look of the area. It is also mentioned that prayer sticks were found in the gap between the rock and the cliff. So by chance or otherwise the rock remained in place during the Chacoan habitation.


After climbing up the rubble to the view area the trail continues around the backside of the ruin where you can see that much has been done to stabilize portions of the structure.


The trail continues to the inside of the complex where visitors can walk amongst the many rooms and dozens of ceremonial kivas.


Continuing to the inside of the ruin the trail passes through many different rooms. Some of the side passages, if you choose to enter them, have smaller openings that require a little bending over or crawling.


There would have been floors separating each level where you see the logs sticking out of the walls.


After touring the ruin you can follow the petroglyph trail, if you choose, either back to the parking area or over to the Chetro Ketl ruin. There are large areas of the cliff that are covered with sharpening grooves where various tools and weapons would have been honed. There are also a few petroglyphs. We outlined portions of a photograph of one panel that among other things had several images of birds. When studying the petroglyphs pay as much attention to the natural features of the rock surface, such as holes and ridges, and you will see how they seem to be incorporated into the meaning or message being conveyed.


For the best overall view a hike up to the Pueblo Bonito overlook gives a particularly spectacular vantage point. That trail can be accessed by climbing the ancient Chacoan staircase behind the Kin Kletso ruin.


Pueblo Bonito is the must see site to visit in Chaco Canyon. The site appears to have been an important hub for a network of people that extended throughout the southwest and into what is now Mexico. Prehistoric roadways have been found that are largely laid out in straight lines and include roadside accrudaments like short walls and earthworks. So fascinating is the Chacoan culture that many books have been written on its various aspects and Pueblo Bonito holds a prominent place in many of them. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.