Pueblo Pintado First Encounter for Many with Chaco

Although the Pueblo Pintado “great house” is about 16 miles upstream from the main building sites of Chaco Canyon, it is part of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

If you have a car, a roadmap and a sense of adventure, here’s a perfect trip — the ruins of Pueblo Pintado. Sitting atop a hill overlooking the eastern approaches to Chaco Canyon, Pueblo Pintado was the first encounter many visitors had with Chacoans. Imagine being in a party of traders in the year 1000 and approaching a high-rise “L” shaped stone structure three or four stories high with 90 rooms on the ground floor. There was a low-walled plaza containing smaller kivas with a great kiva 58 feet in diameter next to it.

And imagine being told, “Welcome, but Downtown Chaco is still 16 miles away…and it is infinitely greater than even our gorgeous Pueblo Pintado.” Wow. How great was Chaco! How overwhelming! And no wonder it drew visitors from much of the western hemisphere for 400 years. Well, you can be that wanderer. The ruins of Pueblo Pintado are only 110 miles away from the Albuquerque metro.

Here are some FAQ’s.

How about crowds? The log book showed 20 entries in the last four months. We saw nobody.

Should we see it before or after Chaco Canyon? It doesn’t matter. But sometimes it’s better to examine one tree before visiting a forest.

Are the ruins easy to find? No. Getting close enough to see it in the distance is pretty easy, but actually driving to it requires imagination and an explorers heart. Directions are below.

Where did the name “Pueblo Pintado” come from? Pueblo Pintado, “Painted Town,” was named by a member of a military expedition in 1849.

Here are the directions. Go north on I-25 to the northern Bernalillo exit. Take NM 550 towards Farmington. Just before the town of Cuba, turn left onto NM 197. Eventually the road passes through the community of Torreon and becomes Navajo Route 9. Keep going. About 25 miles later is the community of Pueblo Pintado. Keep going west past the intersection with Navajo Route 46. You can see two water towers next to the road. Right past them is what looks like a driveway with a mailbox beside it. That is the road you want. There are no signs. The ruins are about a mile from the highway.

Jon Knudsen is a freelance writer and retired educator. Email him at  johnny_mango@yahoo.com.

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