Chaco Canyon is a valley in the eastern portion of the Colorado Plateau in northwest New Mexico. It is a dry and inhospitable canyon on the Navajo Indian reservation. About 1000 years ago, Chaco was the center of one of the most remarkable and sophisticated cultures in prehistoric North America. It flourished just after 1000 AD, and remained an important center of Anasazi culture until it was abandoned between 1130 and 1150 AD, primarily due to drought.
Fifteen miles in length, Chaco Canyon is dominated by thirteen large Anasazi villages. These free-standing architectural structures each contain as many as 700 rooms and 34 kivas. Over 200,000 wooden beams were used in their construction, and were cut by controlled fires or stone axes and then carried to the building sites from forests that were as far as 50 miles away.
Radiating from Chaco are more than 400 miles of roads connecting Chaco to some 75 communities known as Chaco outliers. The longest road presently known runs 42 miles north toward the prehistoric towns now called Salmon Ruins and Aztec Ruins. Most settlements lay at travel intervals of approximately one day. Today, a few hours away from Albuquerque, these structures are preserved in the Chaco Culture National Historic Park.