At the end of miles of washed-out, potholed dirt roads, in a remote corner of New Mexican desert, are some of the oldest extant ruins in the United States. Begun in the early 9th century, the great houses and colossal kivas here stood at the center of a highly organized and integrated civilization (known today as Ancestral Puebloan or Anasazi) that extended far beyond the immediate area, incorporating some 150 public structures in all. But despite the wealth of archaeological evidence that has been uncovered, Chaco culture, which reached its peak in the 11th century, remains an enigma.
The isolation and extreme climate means that few visitors pass this way (most come for the solstices), but that's all for the better. Desert hikes up sandstone cliffs and to vast 1000-year-old ruins silhouetted against expansive panoramas are perhaps best appreciated with no more than the sound of wind in your ears.