DAY 11 PLAN: Chaco Canyon (option 1)



DRIVE: Santa Fe, NM to Chaco Culture National Park, NM

  • break camp
  • DEP Santa Fe area
  • DRIVE Santa Fe / La Bajada / Chaco Culture National Park
    (approx. 250 miles / 11 hours)
  • RESUPPLY en route
  • (optional: SIDE TRIP to Santa Domingo Pueblo)
  • ARR Chaco Culture National Historical Park
  • Set up camp

NITE: National Park Campsite / Chaco Culture National Historic Park, NM


21 DEP: 0800 – Santa Fe NM
(DRIVE: 40 miles / 1.0 hours = 2.0 hours estimated segment time)

22 DEP: 1000 – La Bajada Trail start
(DRIVE: 15 miles / 4 hours = 5.0 hours estimated segment time)

23 DEP: 1500 – La Bajada Trail end
(DRIVE: 170 miles / 3.5 hours = 4.5 hours estimated segment time)

ARR: 1930 – Chaco Culture National Historical Park NM
(225 miles / 8.5 hours drive / 11.5 hours estimated travel)




ACTIVITIES EN ROUTE from Santa Fe to Chaco:

La Bajada Jeep Trail – Drive this notorious old section of Route 66. The La Bajada Trail is about 15 miles long and takes approximately 4 hours or so to complete.
see the website

  • The La Bajada Trail is approximately 20 miles Southwest of Santa Fe, in the Santa Fe National Forest.
  • The southwest portion of the trail crosses the Cochiti Indian Reservation, but as long as you stay on the main road, you shouldn’t have any problems with the locals.
  • Ranging in elevation from 5,500 feet to a little over 6,100 feet, the trail climbs La Bajada Hill, the original section of the road that served as the main passage from Albuquerque to Santa Fe prior to the building of I-25.
  • Historians believe that this road has been in use for some 300 years. The switchbacks on the road were supposedly blazed by U.S. Army troops in the 1860’s for cavalry passage.
  • In the early 1900’s, because of the gravity-fed gas tanks of the time, many vehicles were forced to use their most powerful gear – reverse – to climb backwards up the steeper switchbacks.
  • In the 1920’s, the top half of the climb was rerouted on a gentler alignment just to the east of the old route (descending this route makes for a nice “loop” trail).
  • In 1934, the Highway Department “moved” the road three miles to the east to the same route currently used by I-25.
  • Directions: To get to the trailhead, take I-25 north towards Santa Fe. Take the SR16/Cochiti Pueblo exit (#264), which is about 15 miles south of Santa Fe and 35 north of Albuquerque. Travel northwest on SR 16 for 3.1 miles and turn right on the powerline utility road. A good place to air down is just before you cross the Santa Fe River.
  • An eastbound turn at Waypoint LB17 takes you to the Tsinat Ruins, a little over 3 miles away.

Santa Domingo Pueblo
P.O. Box 99, Santo Domingo, NM 87052
(see website)
Telephone: (505) 465-2214

  • Recommended by the folks at Historic Route 66 as a good place to stop: “… the Santo Domingo community between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, have hardly any tourist attractions, yet offer the chance to meet and converse with some of the very nice people who live there. Look for a food trailer called Brenda’s Stand and you can sample some of the native cuisine. “
  • Directions: from I-25 coming from Santa Fe, take Exit 259 for NM-22 towards Santa Domingo/Pueblo, then go Right on NM-22 (heading North) for 4 miles, then head West on Indian Service Route 88 for about 1 mile, and there is a sign.

LODGING: Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Gallo Campground
(see park website)
P. O. Box 220, Nageezi, New Mexico 87037
Visitor Center: (505) 786-7014 / Fax: (505) 786-7061

Gallo Campground: located one mile east of the Visitor Center. Tucked amongst the fallen boulders and cliffs of Gallo Wash, the campground offers camping in a rugged environment, surrounded by petroglyphs, a cliff dwelling, inscriptions, and a high desert landscape. There is no shade. The campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Camping is limited to 7 days. Trailers and RVs over 35 feet in length can not be accommodated.

There is a limit of six people, two tents, and two vehicles at each campsite. Each site has a picnic table and fire grate (with a grill). Bring your own firewood or charcoal. Gathering wood is prohibited and no firewood is available in the park.

Most sites include a tent pad. The campground has water (non-potable) and restrooms with flush toilets. Site #16 and both restrooms are handicap accessible. There are no showers or hook-ups. Drinking water is available 24 hours a day in the Visitor Center parking area, where telephones are located as well. There is no gasoline, auto repair, food, or ice available in the park. To make the most of your visit, please plan ahead and come prepared.

  • Directions: From I-25, take exit 242, to get onto US-550 heading North and West.. turn off US 550 at CR 7900– approximately 50 miles west of Cuba (at mile 112.5). This route is clearly signed from US 550 to the park boundary (21 miles). The route includes 8 miles of paved road (CR 7900) and 13 miles of rough dirt road (CR7950).
  • FEE: $8/vehicle plus $10/night camping fee

ALTERNATIVE CAMPING OPTIONS Camping at Chaco Culture National Historical Park will be severely limited until further notice, because the Gallo Campground septic system needs to be replaced, and the park is working on emergency repairs. Until the repairs are completed, the park has suspended all group camping and reduced the number of regular camp sites from 49 to 35. For information on alternative camping options: Contact: Visitor Center, (505) 786-7014 ext. 221 or Ramona Begay, (505) 786-7014 ext. 233

The nearest camping options in the park’s immediate area are listed here:

  • RUBY RANCH: A working cattle ranch 16 miles south of the park on Hwy 57 (rough dirt road) invites individuals and groups to camp at their ranch. There is unlimited camping ($5.00 per person/per night) at the ranch. Camping is primitive and campers will need to be self contained (i.e., bring their own food and water, pack out all trash and properly dispose of human waste). Call Mickey or Amy Williams at (505) 979-0614 for further details.
  • BLANCO TRADING POST: A working trading post located at 12341 S. Hwy 550, 29 miles north of Chaco off US 550. Fourth generation traders Justin and Savannah Higgins invite individuals and groups to camp adjacent to their trading post ($5.00 per person/per night). Restrooms and food service are available at the post during operating hours 6:30am to 9:00pm (summer). Water is available. Call (505) 632-1219.
  • LYBROOK MERCANTILE: A working trading post located at Mile Marker 104 on US Hwy 550, 34 miles from Chaco (on the way to Cuba and Albuquerque). Trader John Lee invites individuals and groups to camp adjacent to the trading post. Tent camping is $10.00 per night. There are 6 RV sites with hook-ups. Restrooms, etc, are available 8:00am to 9:00pm. Water is available. Call (505) 568-4477 for more info.
  • In addition to these sites, there are commercial campgrounds available in Cuba, Bloomfield, and Farmington. National Park Service campgrounds are also located at other regional sites such as Mesa Verde National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, El Malpais and El Moro National Monuments, and Bandelier National Park. Additionally, there are numerous public campgrounds in the region managed by the US Forest Service, Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation, and New Mexico State Parks.


17 JAN 2010: Personally, the big attraction of the Santa Fe loop for me is a part of the drive on a dirt road thru La Bajada (explanation below is from Legends of America: Rte 66 site) :

<< …the Mother Road continued on a particularly nasty stretch down La Bajada Hill toward Albuquerque. One of the most challenging sections of Route 66, the 500 foot drop along narrow switch backs struck terror in the hearts of many early travelers, so much so that locals were often hired to drive vehicles down the steep slope.>>

You KNOW i want to drive that segment!!!!! (there might also be the possibility of coming BACK via this segment on our way down from Utah after Moab if we skip Santa Fe loop on the way). Check out what these folks who did the trip in 2003 have to say about this section of the Route… And here is a good explanation of La Bajada possiblities… and HERE IS A JEEP TRAIL (and they rate it as an EASY trail, so i think it should be no problem for us!!!!!). The Jeep Trail actually takes us onto the Cochiti indian reservation, and ends at a ruin… Here is more about the Cochitis… and someone’s photo essay from a trip up La Bajada…

I also think it would be great to visit/camp at the Chaco national site!!!! It would be really cool if we could stay in the Chaco national site campground (which is in the middle of the Petroglyphs, i think), but as it is first-come/first-serve, we had better make alternate plans… the park itself has put together this list of alternative camping options in the area… BTW, the Chaco park has put together a “Before you Visit” introduction online…


  • New Mexico state official tourism site (about the state, plus things to do, etc.)
  • Native American New Mexico info about native american tribal events and activities open to the public.
  • Chaco Culture National Historical ParkThis Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, hosting the densest and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest. It is located in a relatively inaccessible canyon cut by the Chaco Wash, and contains the most sweeping collection of ancient ruins north of Mexico. There is a primitive campground inside the park. Tucked amongst the fallen boulders and cliffs of Gallo Wash, the campground offers camping in a rugged environment, surrounded by petroglyphs, a cliff dwelling, inscriptions, and a high desert landscape. There is no shade. The campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Indian Pueblo Cultural Center – in Albuquerque, has a schedule of dance performances as well as other native american cultural programming
  • Manzano state park – a state park near to Albuquerque that has camping
  • something native american? – here is a calendar of new mexico native american events and dances. and this is the site of the taos pueblo, where they sometimes have a very beautiful relgious dance called matachines. and another calendar of dances and events (with notices about photography policy)
  • Acoma Sky City Pueblo tour… on the Acoma reservation that is between Albuquerque and Gallup. It has the oldest continally inhabited pueblo, and there are tours given by tribal members for tourist (seems like it is very well developed tourism, but has gotten high ratings)