I have never been accused of being too retiring, that is, quiet and withdrawn. It’s just not me. But sometimes you can take this confidence thing too far. When I was asked to lead a recent tour to Chaco Canyon I immediately added as many of my favorite sites to the itinerary as I could. That meant we would go to Kin Ya’a and Pueblo Pintado, places not commonly visited by the more casual tours.
I used to go to Chaco as many as three times a year in my heyday as a archaeological tour guide, but I had retired from that in 2005. Even in my salad days I had only made it to Pintado once or twice. It used to be out of the way but with the realignment of the north entrance into Chaco, access to Pintado has become more realistic.
My intent was to see Kin Ya’a on the way into Chaco and Pueblo Pintado two days later on the way out. Unfortunately against all previous reports to the contrary our first day dawned to a steady rain. If you have ever been to an outlier like Kin Ya’a you know that often the roads are identified as such in name only. Adding mud to the mix pretty much negates access.
I approached the turnoff to Kin Ya’a and didn’t even bother to stop, I already knew it was hopeless, reaching the south entrance to the park I again didn’t bother to slow down, we weren’t going in today. I thought about Pintado at that point but realized that since the site was in a very isolated open environment we would be exposed to the elements and miserable.
We headed for Aztec. At Aztec there were places to get in out of the rain and more cover than at Chaco. Unfortunately, that meant that I had lost a half a day of our trip and would now have to scramble to get everything in.
As a result that found us really busting our hump on Sunday, the last day of the tour, to see everything I wanted them to experience. Late in the afternoon we left Chaco and headed for Pueblo Pintado. Thanks in part to the reorganization of the entry to Chaco, Pintado has become a more accessible location. Formerly you had to drive all the way back to the highway and backtrack to get there but now the turnoff is on the way out.
I like going to Pintado because of it’s location. Like Penasco Blanco at the west end of the canyon, Pintado occupies a highly visible ridge on the south side of the canyon making it stand out for miles around. Its placement also accentuates the isolation of its location making the landscape stand out in all the stark beauty of the Great Basin desert region.
Late afternoon found our caravan heading for Pintado on relatively good gravel roads and even pavement (!) in some places. As we turned off to approach the ruin on the dirt road I experienced another of my rapidly increasing senior moments. In the deep depths of my brain I knew that there was a school just off the highway and two water towers and a dirt road that lead to Pueblo Pintado, which beckoned clearly silhouetted against the deep blue sky eternally standing guard to the entrance to Chaco Canyon. I remembered this road as being to the north side of the school. Seeing only one road to the right of the school I turned and eventually lead my intrepid charges directly to a razor wire fenced off pond of contaminated water.
We navigated returning back to the paved road not without some difficulty and I then decided the road must be to the other side, south of the school. It seemed wrong but I was the leader so I drove up the hill a ways and eventually located a dirt road leading the right direction. Our caravan wound up this time at a gate which proclaimed “No Trespassing” in no uncertain terms. Wrong again.
I then decided to do the unthinkable. I drove into the school grounds and around to the housing units where teachers and other school employees live. Seeing a woman in front of her house I stopped and asked her what I was doing wrong.
“I was trying to catch your attention on that other road,” she said, “when I saw you were going the wrong way.” She did? How did I miss her? “You have to go in on the road under the water towers.” I thanked her and tried vainly to remember seeing a road under the water towers but upon driving up there I found that the road was right there, just south of the school grounds. Not only that but I had driven past it not once but TWICE without seeing it!
The only thing I can suggest is that Coyote must have been laying in front of the road screening it from my vision — nothing else makes sense.