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Four years ago, on the night of Dec. 13 and on into the wee hours before dawn on Dec. 14, I was in northwest New Mexico at one of my favorite spots in the world, Chaco Culture National Historical …
Four years ago, on the night of Dec. 13 and on into the wee hours before dawn on Dec. 14, I was in northwest New Mexico at one of my favorite spots in the world, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, taking in the peak of the Geminids meteor shower.
I’d long wanted to do that since discovering Chaco back 2005. One of the most fascinating things to me about this ancestral Puebloan civilization was their attention to the skies. From features of buildings that were designed to reveal winter and summer solstices to the Sun Dagger calendar high up on Fajada Butte, the greathouses of Chaco Canyon and those who lived there were in perfect sync with the skies.
Four years ago, I’d come back to my Kansas hometown from Montana to pick up some things I had in storage there, and the trip to Chaco was quite impulsive. I realized the peak of the Geminids would be the next night and decided right then and there to take the “south route” back to Montana.
An unexpected and somewhat harrowing event on the 12-hour trek came as I was driving through the Oklahoma panhandle into New Mexico. I’d encountered random tumbleweeds over the years while driving, but never a full-blown tumbleweed storm, at night, no less. Think blinding blowing Minnesota snow driven by 40 mph winds, except replace the snow with fine dirt and thrown in rolling tumbleweeds two to three feet in diameter rolling across your path in twos, threes, and fours about every 15-20 seconds. And do that for a little over 40 miles. Honestly, I’ll take blizzards.
Chaco Canyon may be situated in a high desert area, but that doesn’t mean it’s warm in December. I got to the campground there about 4:30 p.m. on the 13th, and it was around 25 degrees with a sprinkling of snow. Had a topper on the pickup at the time, so I caught about six hours of sleep and woke up for the show.
The main road through the park is closed at night, but the access road along the south is open, and there was a perfect spot to park with a view of Fajada Butte. By this time it was 14 degrees, so I alternated standing outside the cab of the truck to watch for awhile and then sitting inside looking up through the open sunroof with the heater cranked up.
I quit counting after 40 or so meteors. What an amazing light show. I wondered quite a bit about how those living there in the 800s-1100s would have viewed it. Like Voyageurs National Park, Chaco Canyon is an International Dark Skies Park, a perfect place to view even the faintest meteor showers.
I tell the story of my spontaneous trip to Chaco not so much to entertain you, our readers, as to remind myself of the importance being impulsive now and then. Some people do that more easily than others, and for me, it used to be rather easy.
But there is a certain rhythm of both small-town journalism and small towns that can lull one into a sense of routine. The towns and events that need to be covered set your schedule, not the other way around.
Still, this soul, at least, needs to make a bit more effort to discover spontaneous, impulsive moments. They offer new discoveries, new adventures, and those are things that I enjoy. And one doesn’t have to drive a thousand miles to find them, either.
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