Peñasco Blanco and Supernova Pictograph Trail
This trail is one of the more famous trails at Chaco Canyon. It goes past a pictograph which may represent the 1054 Supernova that created the Crab Nebula that we see today. Besides the famous pictograph, the trail also takes you past petroglyphs, some of which are the inspiration for some of the park signs.
This trail also goes to Peñasco Blanco, which is one of the outlying ruins in the park.
|Hike data||Waypoints||Maps||Getting to the trailhead||About the hike||Plants along the trail||Comments|
When we hiked it:
|Time it took us:||4:00.|
|Usage (people/hour):||0.00. Trail usage depends heavily on the season. In winter, you are likely to have the trail to yourself.|
|PDAPK||Trailhead||Parking lot for Pueblo del Arroyo, also trailhead for Peñasco Blanco hike|
Maps:Geohack online map list Paper maps:
|Map name||Cartographer||Year||Scale||Topo map?||Online access||Notes|
|Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah||Automobile Club of Southern California||1998||1:0||N||Arizona Strip Interpretive Association (purchase)||Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.|
|Wildernesses of New Mexico||US Forest Service||1981||1:1000000||N||No online copies.||Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.|
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Getting to the trailhead:
The National Park Service has made it much easier to find the park than in days gone by. You used to have to guess which road to take whenever you came to a fork. They now have good signs all the way in. They also have a map online.
From Cuba, take US 550 (old NM 44) past Counselor and Lybrook. Just past mile marker 112 is the turnoff, which is across the street from the Red Mesa Express gas station and convenience store. A sign indicates the turnoff to the left. The route is well signed.
After about 4.7 miles, you will turn right from the paved road onto a dirt road, county road 7950. Beware that the dirt road sometimes gets exciting when it rains. Do not cross the washes if there is any water running.
16.4 miles from the turnoff from US 550, the road turns left, and again, there is a sign here. When the road becomes really washboard-y, you are getting close. At 19.4 miles from US 550, you enter the park.
The trailhead is at the west side of the Pueblo del Arroyo parking lot on the main loop at Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
About the hike:
Starting from the Pueblo del Arroyo parking lot, head west (as shown in the photo), toward Kin Kletso, Casa Chiquita, and Peñasco Blanco.
The trail heads down an old road (years ago, we drove this road when coming into Chaco Canyon). As you head up the canyon, among the things you see is this balanced rock.
After 20-30 minutes of hiking, you come to Casa Chiquita (GPS CCQTA).
At the end of the next canyon, you will begin to see side trails that lead to the canyon wall. You will want to take them---they lead to petroglyphs. At one point, a sign points out a petroglyph trail, but if you wait for this sign to take the side trails you will miss several petroglyphs.
Cliff swallows nest near some of the petroglyphs. They spend most of the day eating insects, so you will probably see them darting and swooping around as you hike.
Cliff swallows build nests of around 1000 mud pellets that the pair of swallows carry to their site under an overhang. The nest is lined with feathers and grasses.
When you see a sign that says "To Ruins" and "Return to main trail". Look west from this area and you will see Peñasco Blanco on the mesa.
One of the plants you may see along the trail is Evening Primrose.
About two hours from the start (including a lunch break :-), you get to Chaco Wash (GPS PBSNY). Be careful crossing the wash, as the sides are steep.
A little further and the trail forks as shown in the photo (GPS PBSNY2). To the left is a shortcut to Peñasco Blanco. To the right is the trail to the supernova pictograph. Take the right branch; you will be returning on the left one.
After 10-15 minutes more, you arrive at the pictograph site (GPS PBSN). Look up---the pictograph is under an overhang, on the ceiling about 20 ft up. I wonder how the artist got up there to paint it.
Return the way you came to get to PBSNY2 and go right upon reaching the fork. This takes you up to Peñasco Blanco.
As you climb up on a shelf, look to your right---there is a small shelter cave.
Note the detail in the walls as you look around. The masonry is impressive.
Return to the trailhead by reversing the route you took to get here, although you can save a little distance by not going to the Supernova Pictograph site.
Plants we saw along the trail:
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