Chaco: Autumn Equinox

For the first time, there is no coyote serenade during the night.  My alarm goes off at 5:20 – I snooze it a couple times before getting up.  One advantage of not having showers available is that it takes less time to get up in the morning. <LOL>

People are waiting in line for the photo of the sun lined up in the doorways of the Great Kiva at Casa Rinconada.

By 5:55 I am at the girls’ camp.  John has already left, so we pile into the car and head out to the park, where we are directed into the parking lot at Pueblo Bonito.  A shuttle is waiting to take us to Casa Rinconada.  Once there we walk up the hill to the great kiva, where Ranger GB is waiting on the east side.  As GB leads the group to the west side, I understand why some people got up at 4:00 in order to be part of the first 16 cars – the only ones allowed to park at Casa Rinconada.  There is a line of people aligned with the doors through which the sun will shine at sunrise.  My place is at the end of that line.

Rather than taking a chance on getting a photo in the crowd, several of us made our own alignment. The sun will rise in the notch formed by the cliff in the background and the wall in the foreground.

GB is telling people to get their photo, then move aside so the people behind can can theirs. I am skeptical that this will work.  I notice some people standing at the side and ask GB what can be seen from that vantage.  “You can see the sun rise at the corner of the butte and the horizon, it just won’t be through the doors of the kiva.”  I make a strategic decision to leave the kiva line and create my own alignment.  I am not the only one to do this.

The western horizon is higher than the east, so the sun will hit the top of this ridge before rising in the east.

Sunlight on the ridge means the sun will soon peek over the eastern horizon.

As the sun rises, the hill to the west is illuminated first.  The golden band moves down the sandstone toward the still-shadowed group of photographers waiting for the sun to peek over the eastern horizon.  The eastern sky gradually lightens until … yes! the brilliant orb appears just to the left of the butte.

Sor'a is waiting for the sun to rise.

The sun rises in perfect alignment with the marker.

People greet the sunrise at the Autumn Equinox.

I get my photos from my ad hoc alignment.  I think my photos are more dramatic than those from the official alignment through the doors.  Also, I get to take many shots since my line is basically three people.  This is a good thing, as taking photos directly into the sun wreaks havoc with the auto focus and auto exposure programs of the camera.

Facing west, people watch the shadows of the two kiva doors align.

Meanwhile, on the east side of the kiva, people are watching the shadows of the two kiva doors move into alignment.  I manage to find a spot and get some images as the outline of the eastern door lines up with the opening of the western door.  Finally I walk back around to the west and snap a photo of the sun lined up through the doorways.

As Ranger GB said the night before, this was not a representation of the Equinox.  Everyone on the hill experienced the real thing.  This is different from reading about it or seeing pictures of it.

Chaco had one last gift for us as we drove back to camp.  A magnificent elk buck with a huge rack stood in the field, proudly posing for photographs.  A fitting end to a memorable week.

The top of Fajada Butte, where the Sun Dagger is located.

One last visit to the Visitor Center to buy a souvenir tee shirt.


The goat is still where he was five days ago.

4 thoughts on “Chaco: Autumn Equinox

  1. it was great to be able to share this with you, Andy … thanks for taking such great photos so I could just focus on watching the sun rise and the people as they greeted the sunrise! I love the photo you captured of the elk … perhaps our word for the day was ‘majestic’ :-)

    • Sor’a, I took several pictures of the elk, and in each one he looks magnificent … well maybe not the last one where he is showing his tail! In this photo I posted, he really looks like he is the star of the show, and knows it!
      There were so many friendly people at Chaco; I enjoyed talking with each of them. You, Gayle, and Bandhu are special because we connected as friends rather than just acquaintances. Thank you for that.
      By the way, I have many more photos of the Equinox than I posted. Let me know if you would like to see them.

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