Chaco Outliers Trip

April 25, 2002

I dawdled in camp for a couple of hours, looking through scraps of poems and other things I've written in the last 10 years or so. It sprinkled a bit a few times, not making my decision any easier. Finally, it was time to go and to decide. So, I decided to take the risk and venture out the road to Kin Klezhin (or Klizhin). I had a hand-drawn map from the Visitors Center (VC) and a separate article.

That map is missing some crucial info. There is an indication of "3.0", as in miles to the dirt road. But from where? I assumed the VC, but in fact it is 4 miles from the VC. Why not also mention the very noticeable fence, house & windmill (other windmills are marked but I didn't see them). Oh, well, I backtracked a few times before deciding this unmarked road had to be it.

I'm sure I've been on worse roads. In fact, the old south road to Chaco is much worse in some places. However, the first sign on this road doesn't appear until mile 4 and there are minor dirt tracks all over the place. The road is both rutted and washboard and, inexplicably, at time tilted 20 degrees. I'm comfortable with the truck leaning to the passenger's side, but when it leans to my side I get very nervous. I slowly picked my way at 15 mph tops, under solid gray skies with increasingly frequent sprinkles. Nine and a half miles in I reached the park boundary; a bit more than 2 miles later was the turnoff to Kin Klezhin, truly in the middle of nowhere.

The wind was blowing fiercely as I walked towards Kin Klezhin. I wore my yellow poncho as much for warmth as dryness. Of course, I was alone, and likely to remain so for a long time if the rain picked up much.

The tallest feature here is part of a multistory kiva. I don't think I've been aware of multistory kivas until I noticed the one at Kin Kletso yesterday -- though I must have seen these before. Today it struck me that the walls of the kiva are thicker towards the top -- rather unexpected -- making the kiva more smokestack-shaped than cylindrical. Kivas that are away from buildings or in plazas are, as you'd expect, round. However, kivas inside of buildings are inside of square spaces -- literally round holes in square pegs. Often, the space between the round wall of the kiva and the walls of the square space are filled with rubble. Here, it seems more constructed than that.

I left in wind & rain, pausing on the way out to note that there was a noticeably flat area encircled by mounds, on top of one of which Kin Klezhin sits. Farmland? That got me to thinking that maybe the Anasazi didn't just pick good spots for farming. After all, if you're willing and able to move tons of rock for buildings, why not move tons of soil to build up a windbreak and water-collector?

A few dozen yards west, I stopped to look at a real oddity. I would guess that it is a corral and, maybe, a Navajo hogan. However, the stone work is rather Anasazi looking. Is it ancient; did Navajo modify an older structure or build something new in an old style? I had more and more questions as the day went on.

Shortly after I left the western park boundary, I encountered the only gate on this road. And then the road split, both parts almost disappearing in sand. For a very short stretch it was very hard going -- I would not want to be without 4-wheel drive in such a spot.

On the map, this area is labeled "badlands" and, indeed, it looks a lot like Bisti and Denezin. Also, here a big new wide dirt road comes in from the north -- where from? Soon after this road ends in 7059 (also dirt), in sight of Lake Valley Chapter House.

I drove a few miles south until I saw the very prominent "dirt dam" -- when & why was this built, since there is no water anywhere near here. East less than a mile, the road enters another pocket of the park and a trail head to Kin Bineola.

Wow. This is the most stunning outlier I've seen (though on the horizon, Pueblo Pintado is quite dramatic). This site is huge, nestled in convoluted canyon wall that faces south (I think). Kin Bineola has a unique E-shaped floor plan -- long back to the canyon wall with 3 "wings" stretching away, effectively creating two small plazas open to the south. This is the one to see.

Back at my truck, I lunched on blue corn chips & salsa. Back on 7059 I turned south again. I kept an eye out for Kim-me-ni-oli, another outlier, but haven't a clue where it would be.

Where 7059 meets 371 and pavement, there is a sign facing people turning on to 7059 that says "No access to Chaco here." Not strictly true, but a truer "don't try to get to Chaco this way" might be taken as a challenge. Still, nowhere on this road is there any sign, even at the dirt dam, that says anything about Kin Bineola. The Park Service, the Navajos, or both, don't want to draw attention to these outliers. I sympathize and have mixed feelings about publishing what I do. I know the very act of observing these ruins helps destroy them and the more people who climb around them, the faster they will go. However, they will go, even if ignored by everyone, and what is the good of that. If you approach these ruins carefully, even respectfully, stay off the walls, don't push against, climb on, sit on anything, you still have time to experience them and help preserve them in words, film, art, conversation.

After all I had been through, the Park Service map proved most vexing near the end of the trip. The map precisely notes 4.2 miles between Rt 9 and a road to Crownpoint. However, that road is NOT the much more obvious main road to Crownpoint. This is important because the next road is .8 miles from the map's Crownpoint road (ironically, that road is named Chaco Rd). Point 8 miles from the main Crownpoint road is a trailer park named after the ruins I was looking for -- I do not know if there is access through it. Point 8 miles from the minor Crownpoint Rd is a propane gas company, misnamed & mislabeled on the map as a "butane" company. Quibbles, you say? Not to me. Finally, there is no indication here that you must pass through a gate near the company. Once through the gate, I had to pick a road and chose poorly. Soon I was in something that looked like part road, part stream bed (not the first time today). Finally, I just stopped and got out and walked east until I could see the Tall House -- Kin Ya'a.

Like Kin Klezhin, the tallest piece here is another multistory kiva, again with thicker walls towards the top. Kin Ya'a sits on a large mound, now strewn with rubble from the walls.

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Copyright © 2002 by Mark Justice Hinton.
revised Saturday September 14, 2002 11:28 AM