A whiteware potsherd near Kin Klizhin at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
An anthropomorphic form appears at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
Looking north on the Kin Klizhin Road, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
Two old An ancient masonry wall at Una Vida Ruin in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
Rust and polish A raven in flight over Pueblo Bonito Ruin, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
Hand-laid An elk herd stands alert near Kin Klizhin, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
“ Kin Klizhin - An ancient puebloan outlier and welcome center for Chaco Canyon, New Mexicoā€¯ 

Wednesday, December 19, 2011 7:27 PM Posted by Jim McGillis

Kin Klizhin - Chaco Canyon Outlier, Part One

On the road to Kin Klizhin Ruins, looking northeast at a receding thunderstorm - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Seeking the Miracle of Water Near Kin Klizhin Ruin

The Colorado Plateau Province is a physiographic region roughly centered on the Four Corner States. On its southeastern periphery lies what we call Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. In May 2011, I visited the Kin Klizhin Ruin at Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Kin Klizhin is the southernmost outlier of Chacoan Culture, and some say the ancient welcome center for Chaco Canyon itself.
 
It has been a millennium since the Great Disappearance, or demise of Pre-Puebloan culture on the Colorado Plateau. In the two years since my last visit, I wondered, had anything changed? As I soon discovered, the landscape had changed. In my brief absence, the sands of time had begun their march. The wheel ruts along the access road were a bit deeper, as were the sand drifts at their edges. Some might believe that this is natural evolution here on Earth. Others might see blowing sand as a significant threat to our environment.
 
Seven members of the Kin Klizhin elk herd stand watch in front of Windmill Hill - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If there is one defining physical feature on the Colorado Plateau, it is sand. During a visit to the Four Corners, one might see loose sand, quicksand, blowing sand, sand dunes, sandstone and tar sand. Human activities such as road building, motorized sports, cattle grazing and sheep herding all contribute to soil erosion. As frequent regional dust storms stir further soil erosion, we experience a drier, sandier High Southwest. In the two years since my last visit, the approach to Kin Klizhin was scoured of soil in some places and sandier than ever in others. Either way, the sands of the Colorado Plateau were moving once again.
 
Although I did not feel any rain the afternoon of my visit, a large thunderstorm was sweeping majestically away to the northeast. There was a breathtaking contrast between bright sunshine on the land and dark clouds in the sky. Turning from that spectacle, I saw yet another wonder of nature. It was the Chaco Canyon elk herd, or at least seven members of its southern contingent.
 
The Kin Klizhin elk herd closes ranks before departing towards Chaco Canyon - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)During my 2008 visit, I had startled an elk herd near Kin Klizhin. At the time, I had taken a picture of five bucks running at top speed. If there was a bull among the 2011 herd, it showed no antlers at all. This led me to believe that there may be more than one Chaco Canyon elk herd. Some visitors have heard their bellows from Gallo Campground, fourteen miles away. Could their voices carry that far, or were there two separate herds? Perhaps there is a greater Chaco Canyon elk herd, with a smaller group at Kin Klizhin. The extent and range of Chaco Canyon elk herds would be a good subject for zoological study.
 
During my previous visit, I had surprised the herd near an open water source, which was on the east side of the double-track. The 2011 herd, however, was on the west side of the road, standing below an old windmill, and its cast iron water tank. After photographing the elk, I drove slowly along the road. At several points, I stopped again to take pictures of the small herd. Wary of both my vehicle and me, they tightened their ranks and then slowly walked away. As long as I could still see them, they continued to look back and observe me, as well.
 
A new FIASA brand, Argentine made windmill gleams in the New Mexico sun, near Kin Klizhin, Chaco Canyon, NM - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)During my 2008 Kin Klizhin tour, I had visited Windmill Hill. At the time, the old Aermotor windmill was ragged and derelict, with barely enough structure remaining to suggest the water pump it once had been. Over the past eighty or more years, it had done its job all too well, sucking dry the aquifer over which it stood. The dry and rusty cast-iron tank, with its poorly patched leak holes told a story of profligate water use in earlier and wetter times. For much of the twentieth century, the Aermotor windmill ran continuously from atop this windy hill. Before seizing up, it pumped the last drop of ancient water from the Kin Klizhin aquifer. In my 2008 story, the old windmill symbolized the drying and disappearance of two cultures at Kin Klizhin.
 
In about 1100 CE, those who had tended the irrigation dam and milpas at Kin Klizhin departed, never to return. The Pre-Puebloan Chaco people had diverted surface runoff, sequestering it behind their hand-built dam. The large amount of ancient water that soaked into the sandy soil later became a
Rust stains on the side of an abandoned water tank create an abstract image of a forest long forgotten - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)target for twentieth century extraction technologies. After centuries of accumulation and a millennium of rest below the surface, that irreplaceable aquifer disappeared in less than a century. Although leakage from the water tank was extensive, the primary usage was even more wasteful. In the high and dry desert, ranchers piped the water to cattle troughs at the site. Exemplifying a lesson of unsustainability, when the well went dry, the ranchers and cattle herds of Chaco Canyon experienced their own Great Disappearance.
 
As I drove west up the short road to Windmill Hill, sunlight on the Kin Klizhin windmill reflected into my eyes. As if it were a heliostat standing in focused light, the object appeared even brighter than the sun. Before the advent of new energy, all reflected light was weaker than its source. Since the Quantum Leap in energy, reflected light may shine with greater intensity than its light source. Some may pass this phenomenon off as a simple lensing effect. It is, I believe, a local confirmation of Einstein’s larger curved-space theory.
 
Mangled blades from the old Aermotor windmill at Kin Klizhin lie forgotten on the ground - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)With few intact blades, how could the windmill shine with such brilliance? To my amazement, I son discovered a shiny new windmill atop the old steel tower. Its many galvanized steel blades acted like a Fourth Order Fresnel Lens, refracting and concentrating the light. In Miguel Cervantes book, “Don Quixote of La Mancha”, the inept hero does battle with a windmill that he mistakes for an unfriendly giant. Unfriendly or not, Don Quixote’s windmill at least served a literal purpose.
 
Was the new Kin Klizhin windmill a flight of fancy or did someone actually think that there was water down there yet to be pumped? Either way, individuals that are more rational had banked the new windmill, so it could not spin to destruction in the wind. In the future, if anyone sees this windmill pumping water, please let me know. I would consider that a miracle of the desert.

 
 

Wednesday, December 19, 2011 1:28 PM Posted by Jim McGillis

Kin Klizhin - Chaco Canyon Outlier, Part Two

Black on white potsherd from Kin Klizhin, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Respecting the Spirit of the Ancients at Kin Klizhin

In May 2011, I visited one of my favorite places within Chaco Culture Historical Park, which is Kin Klizhin Ruin. On my way from camp to Kin Klizhin, I had already seen an elk herd and visited Windmill Hill, where ranchers had installed a new windmill over a dry hole. Now it was late afternoon and time to head for the ruin in time for sunset.
 
From previous visits, I knew that the current road to Kin Klizhin paralleled an ancient pathway, which entered Chaco Canyon from the south. Rather than following the varied terrain, Anasazi visitors to the area tended to travel in alignment with the cardinal points of the compass. Looking east from the road, I could see occasional small mounds that may have been marked the trail for ancient travelers.
 
West wall of Kin Klizhin Ruin, with viewing port or window on the lower left - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After stopping to inspect one mound, I walked carefully back to my truck. Once disturbed, the fragile soils of the area are subject to rapid erosion. By following a sandy watercourse, I avoided stepping on the cryptobiotic soils that make up much of the local terrain.  Closer to the road, I found an area scoured by wind and water. Lying among the pebbles on the sandy surface was a number of potsherds.
 
The largest of the fragments was almost pure white; its concave shape indicating that it was a small part of a much larger pottery vessel. When I reached down and turned it over, I could see that it was an elegant piece of black on white pottery. Found as far north as Wilcox Ranch, Utah and as far south as Antelope Mesa, Arizona, the high-contrast decoration of black on white pottery can turn utilitarian objects into great art.
 
On my fragment, three rippled waves of water lay beneath a white cloud, which was rolling across a dark sky. The symbolism left little doubt that the original vessel served to carry water across the dry terrain. According to Author Craig Childs, “archeologists excavate (black on white) painted jars as large as watermelons” from one Chaco Canyon site. Because of its remote location, I assume that someone dropped the water carrier along the trail. However, because of their ubiquity in the environment, early ranchers coined the word “potshot” for target practice using ancient vessels. Either way, this was a potsherd to love and cherish, if only in pictures.
 
Inside view looking up in the Tower Kiva at Kin Klizhin, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After cleaning the fragment and taking several pictures, I returned it to its original spot. Although it would have made a fine artifact under glass, its real home was where I found it. By placing it back, face down in the spot where I had found it, I allowed another to come along and find it in the future. By publishing its image and identifying its native surroundings, I add to the general knowledge of black on white ware.
 
The U.S. Antiquities Act of 1906 made it illegal to remove any ancient artifact from public lands. Over the years, many people have ignored the law, taking whatever they found and placing those objects in private collections. As Craig Child’s argues in his book, “Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession”, once any artifact is removed from its surroundings, its historical context is lost forever.
 
The following day, when I described my discovery to the Gallo Campground host, he was pleased that I had respected the artifact and its context. “When we find a particularly nice potsherd, we dig a hole with our heel and bury it there”, he told me. Although his method may secure the future of the artifact for another century or two, mine left it on the land, where it belonged. I hope that when I visit Kin Klizhin once again, my treasure will still be there, reflecting light like a windmill in the sun. If you find this or other artifacts, I hope that you will respect the spirit of the ancients, allowing them to stay at home in the High Southwest.
 
Jim McGillis at Kin Klizhin Ruin, Chaco Canyon New Mexico in May 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I was the only human visiting Kin Klizhin that afternoon. Although not as large as other Chaco Canyon great houses, the unusual setting and architecture allows Kin Klizhin to stand out from its peers. Unique in Chaco Culture, Kin Klizhin featured three aboveground circular kivas, each set within a rectilinear outer structure. The inner walls of the largest kiva are more than twice as high as the other two. Looking up from inside the larger Tower Kiva, I felt the grandeur of this ancient place. Perhaps that is what early visitors to Chaco Canyon felt upon arrival at this outlier, or welcome center.
 
The main west-facing wall of Kin Klizhin is its largest bulwark. The remainder of the structure, including a former enclosed courtyard was to the east of there. Although it is massive, there are only two small ventilation holes or Ancestral Puebloan windows on the west wall. One is set low, probably used to draw air to a hearth inside. The other is at eyelevel, and is an obvious viewing port. From a relatively small inside hole-in-the-wall, the opening expands as it penetrates toward the exterior. This arrangement allowed someone inside to have a wide field of view, but kept the penetration of the structure as small as possible.
 
Ancestral Puebloan viewing port at Kin Klizhin Ruin, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico - Click for alternate image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As sunset approached, I stayed inside the roofless structure, waiting for the right moment. Any photographer will tell you that catching the right moment requires luck, skill and many shots. Of the dozen portal shots I took that day, the pair pictured here are my favorites. The small image is from the outside, looking into the structure. If you click on that image, you will see the larger picture, looking out towards the sunset at Kin Klizhin, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

 
 

Wednesday, June 13, 2008 7:37 PM Posted by Jim McGillis

Kin Klizhin - Chaco Canyon Outlier, Part Three

The Kin Klizhin Ruin at Chaco Canyon Historical Park, NM - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Where the Well Went Dry on Two Civilizations

During my 2008 trip to Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite places in all of the Southwest – Kin Klizhin Ruin, located at the very edge of the Chaco Culture Historical Park.  Situated eleven miles to the west of the Visitor Center, one first takes a dirt road, then a four wheel drive road over open country to get to Kin Klizhin.
The Chaco Canyon Elk Herd near Kin Klizhin Ruin - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
Last September, on my trip to Kin Klizhin, I startled a large herd of elk that was watering at a small catchment basin just off the lonely dirt track.  This spring, there were no elk to marvel at, but I did take the time to drive up to the derelict Aermotor windmill that stands on a prominent hill near the dirt track that serves as an access road.
 
The Aermotor Windmill Company is famous throughout the West, as the dominant maker of windmill water pumps.  As the average water table has sunk over the years, many of these windmills have fallen into disrepair and destruction.  Although the welded steel towers can withstand wind Derelict Aermotor Windmill near Kin Klizhin Ruin, Chaco Canyon, NM - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)speeds approaching tornado-strength, the active mechanism of the windmill is much more delicate.  Thus, many of the West’s windmills are little more than shattered remnants of their former elegant, yet utilitarian selves.
 
This particular windmill had a cast-iron storage tank the size of a large home swimming pool.  Held together with hundreds of bolts and coated with rust-preventative tar and paint, the sandblasting wind has created a scene (below) of unexpected artistic effect after all of these years.
 
Although the sky threatened rain, there was not a drop of water anywhere in or near this former human made oasis.  When the water gave out, the land could no longer support cattle grazing, leaving this relic for the occasional visitor to ponder.
A rust stained and abandoned cast iron water tank near Near Kin Klizhin Ruin, Chaco Canyon, NM - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
Archeologists have hypothesized the Kin Klizhin Ruin as the farthest outpost directly related to Chaco Canyon and its unique pre-Puebloan Indian culture.  Standing on a hilltop, the original structure featured an above-ground ceremonial kiva that is unique to the Chaco area. 
 
Ancestral Puebloan residents of this “early Chacoan visitor center” dammed the Kin Klizhin Wash, which is a seasonal tributary to the Chaco River; itself dry most of the year.  There is evidence that early residents planted extensively and used irrigation water to sustain their crops.   One can imagine a pre-Puebloan tourist or pilgrim making his way over many miles of arid desert, only to find this substantial structure, standing as a cultural outpost and welcome center for those who approached Chaco Canyon from the south.
Jim McGillis at Kin Klizhin Ruin, Chaco Canyon, NM on a cold day in May 2008 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
Standing at the Kin Klizhin Ruin, a current-day visitor can see for miles, but other than the ruin, the only sign of man is the single dirt track that leads back past the abandoned windmill to what we call civilization.  It is widely suspected that drought and water shortages around 1200 CE contributed to the  Great Disappearance of Chacoan culture.  Here, in the last fifty years, drought and water shortages similarly led to the demise of the ranching culture near Chaco.
 
As I stood at the ruin and stared, I realized that the temperature was dropping fast and that rain clouds were approaching.  There was little time to contemplate the fine architecture and solidity of the ruin.  Instead, my instincts told me that it was time to make a run for my truck, parked one hundred yards away. 
Storm clouds gather over Kin Klizhin Ruin, Chaco Canyon, NM - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
By the time that I was halfway to the truck, the rain hit.  Once safely inside the cab, I watched as sheets of water quickly washed the road dust from my windshield. 
 
On my way back to my campsite at Chaco Canyon, I encountered a lone driver in a pickup truck not unlike my own.  If not for the truck color being different, I might have mistaken him for me, as it is quite common to meet one’s self both coming and going in the lonely and mysterious desert surrounding the Kin Klizhin Ruin.