Chaco Canyon
Discovered by Jose Antonio Viscarra 1823

A map produced by Don Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco identified the Chaco Canyon area as "Chaca." This term may be a Spanish translation of the Navajo word Tskoh, meaning "rock-cut" or "canyon"--or Tzak aih, meaning "white string of rocks" (the later refers to the appearance the sandstone atop Chacra Mesa). "Chaca" is believed to be the origin of both "Chacra" and "Chaco."

As Jose Antonio Viscarra led a military force west from Jemez Pueblo onto Navajo lands, he noted many fallen Chacoan buildings along the way. His route became a well-used trail for 40 years.

The Washington Expedition, a military reconnaissance under the direction of Lt. James Simpson, surveyed Navajo lands, and wrote accounts of Chacoan cultural sites. The Kern brothers produced excellent illustrations of the sites for a government report.

W. H. Jackson with the U.S. Geological Survey (led by Hayden), produced expanded descriptions and maps of the Chacoan sites. Jackson noted Chacoan stairways carved into cliffs. No photos were produced, because he experimented with a new photographic process at Chaco, which failed.

Victor and Cosmos Mindeleff of the Bureau of American Ethnology spent 6 weeks at Chaco surveying and photographing the major Chacoan sites for a monumental study of Pueblo architecture. Their photographs documented vandalism and looting. These oldest known photos provide us with a starting point for determining the modern effects of visitation, looting, vandalism, and natural collapse on these sites.

After excavating Mesa Verde cliff dwellings (1888) and other ancestral Puebloan sites in the Four Corners area, Richard Wetherill moved to Chaco to excavate sites.

The Hyde Exploring Expedition, led by George H. Pepper from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, established full-scale excavations at Pueblo Bonito. Their main focus was the accumulation of artifacts for the museum collection, and numerous crates of artifacts from Pueblo Bonito were shipped to the museum, where they remain today.

Occupation Period
Outstanding Features