Chaco Canyon – Astronomy, Archeology, and Archaeoastronomy

  • April 18th through 22nd, 2012
  • Registration deadline: March 1st, 2012
  • Capacity: 25
  • Cost: $875.00 (plus airfare)

This Adventure is full. Please contact us if you would like to be added to the waiting list.

April 18-22, 2012

5 Days/4 Nights
Group Size:  Minimum-15      Maximum-25

Experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to seldom seen parts of the archaeological wonders of Chaco Canyon and its outlying ruins. Explore the night sky in New Mexico’s high desert. Learn how the Ancestral Puebloan people lived and how they tracked the sky. We’ll take our time exploring the numerous sites along the Chaco Canyon Loop Drive, each site offering hikes of various distances to view the amazing rock art and ruins.

Program Features

  • Participate in a unique, unforgettable, small group setting
  • Learn through hands-on education, exploration, and discovery
  • Hikes from one to four miles round-trip at elevations of 6,000 to 6,800 feet. (Hikes are optional, but an integral part of the overall experience.)
  • Visit the Chaco Visitor Center, Chetro Ketl, Casa Rinconada, Una Vida, Hungo Pavi, Pueblo Bonito, Pueblo del Arroyo, Penasco Blanco, and Aztec Ruins National Monument
  • Evening programs led by Joel Weisberg and Virginia Wolf

Chaco Canyon National Historic Park was a major urban center of Ancestral Puebloan culture between 850 AD and 1175 AD and served as a hub for ceremonial trade and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area.  Chaco is remarkable for its monumental public and ceremonial buildings, engineering projects, road-building projects, astronomy, artistic achievements, and distinctive architecture–an urban center that was inhabited by as many as 5,000 people, and that still amazes and inspires us a thousand years later. Today Chaco is recognized as a World Heritage Site.

Expert Faculty and Staff

Joel Weisberg, Herman and Gertrude Mosier Stark Professor of Physics and Astronomy and the Natural Sciences, has taught at Carleton since 1984. This will be Joel’s third trip to Chaco with Carleton alumni, parents, and friends.  Chaco is his favorite place on Earth, and he is thrilled with this opportunity to share it with more Carls. This trip will be during the dark of the Moon, so the spectacular New Mexico stars will be at their best. Joel will share his knowledge of the sky, sunset, stars, and constellations every night, as he has done with countless groups since his high school days in New Mexico.

Virginia Wolf has taught geography, anthropology, and history classes at Butte Community College in Oroville, CA. She has surveyed the Ute Mountain Tribal Park for Basketmaker-Early Puebloan petroglyph panels, and worked in Chaco Canyon and the Hovenweep National Monument area since 1989. Virginia has Masters degrees in geography as well as in Native American studies and archaeoastronomy.

Four Corners School Professional Guides: FCS guides will help to bring alive the natural and human history of the region and provide excellent meals for the group.

Program Overview

Participants should be comfortable in a rural, outdoors setting. This adventure features hikes ranging from one to four miles round-trip, with one hike going onto the rim of the canyon overlooking some of the magnificent great houses.  (There will be staff to assist hikers, and all of the hikes are optional, though integral to the trip. The trails generally are graveled and climb several short, steep rises.) Our lodging will be a primitive group campsite located in the park, with plenty of potable water and flush toilets.  There isn’t a regular shower facility available, but there will be some access to camping-style solar showers or you can wait until the last night in your motel.

Daily Itinerary
Please note:  Times and/or order of activities may be subject to change depending on the opportunities provided by the natural world and/or unforeseen circumstances.

Day 1:  April 18 - Wednesday
Arrive at the Farmington, NM airport by 2:00 p.m. and depart promptly in the FCS vans for Chaco Canyon (1.5 hours), arriving in time for a 4:00 p.m. orientation and a hearty dinner. If you drive you can meet us at the Chaco campground at 4:00 p.m.  After dinner, visit some of the rock art surrounding the camp.

Day 2: April 19 - Thursday
Examine artifacts in the Chaco Culture National Historic Park Visitor’s Center, before exploring two of Chaco’s smaller “great houses” (monumental public buildings), Una Vida and Hungo Pavi. Hike the one-mile trail at Una Vida and view the petroglyphs, then take the quarter-mile hike at Hungo Pavi to see an unexcavated great house. Continue on to the canyon’s centerpiece site, magnificent Pueblo Bonito, and take the half-mile trail through this enormous D-shaped complex that stood four stories high and contained 40 kivas and 600 to 800 rooms. After dinner, enjoy a sunset watch and stargazing with Joel.

Day 3:  April 20 - Friday
Explore Chetro Ketl, where a half-mile gravel trail will allow you to fully enjoy the view of this three-acre great house. At Pueblo del Arroyo, hike the quarter-mile trail. Explore the great kiva at Casa Rinconada and enjoy the half-mile hike. Hike the 2.5-3.5 (depending on the route you choose) mile trail up South Mesa to Tsin Kletsin, Navajo for “black wood place” or “charcoal place.” See six other Chacoan great houses visible on distant horizons, and explore a prehistoric dam constructed to capture domestic water for the inhabitants of Tsin Kletsin.  After dinner, visit the Chaco Observatory and expand your exploration of the skies with Joel and park staff.

Day 4:  April 21 - Saturday
Leave Chaco Canyon for travel to Salmon Ruins and Aztec Ruins National Monument near Farmington and explore the Great Kiva. Check into the hotel and enjoy a hot shower before sharing stories at a farewell dinner!

Day 5:  April 22 – Sunday - After breakfast, we will travel to the Farmington, NM airport.  Flights out should be scheduled for after 9:00 a.m.

Activity Level

Requires fitness adequate for hikes up to four miles round trip, willingness to camp, and readiness to participate in a group setting. Most hikes are flat, but one is up to the canyon rim. There will be staff to assist hikers, and you may opt out of the longer hikes.

Program Cost:  $875.00

This adventure starts and finishes at the Farmington, New Mexico, airport. Included: all meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 5, transportation from/to the airport, park fees, gratuities for Four Corners staff, group camping equipment, hotel on Day 4.  Not included: Airfare, personal items, alcohol, soft drinks, and personal camping equipment. You may, if you wish, rent the personal equipment from FCS:

•    Sleeping bag plus pad – $5/day per person
•    Tent – $5/person per day (can hold two with comfort or a three-person family group)


Please contact Ann Iijima at the Carleton College Alumni Relations Office: 800-729-2586 (general office number), 507-222-4554 (Ann's direct line), or