The ties to Native Americans that link New Mexico to centuries in the past are well-known.
Chaco Canyon, near Farmington, of course. The Gila Cliff Dwellings near Silver City. The Salinas Pueblo Missions ruins of Gran Quivira, Quarai and Abó near Mountainair. The plethora of petroglyphs spread from one side of the state to the other.
Cruising through the desert backcountry provides ample opportunity for exploration and discovery.
Such is the case of the oft-overlooked, but subtlety exquisite Casamero Pueblo, about 20 miles west of Grants.
“Initially, when you walk up on it, the highest wall is mid-chest high,” said Sean Daugherty, Bureau of Land Management archeologist. “But that doesn’t really tell the whole story about it. What is striking is when you look closely at it and start studying it.”
Casamero allows visitors to get an up-close-and-intimate look at the architecture and construction techniques that the builders used.
“The architectural design and the style is something,” he said. “You can see actually the way they used the stones to build the walls. They used the large boulders with very thin wafers. It’s very intricate. That is Chaco to a ‘T,’ that kind of intricateness.”
It is a pattern that required patience, exactitude and engineering skill.
“When you look at it with the large stones, and delicate, small wafers, it does become quite striking,” Daugherty said. “Think about the hours of the work to do that. And they didn’t need to do that.”
The settlement itself is a not grandiose, with 22 ground-floors room, and perhaps as many as six second-story rooms.
Occupied between 1000 and 1125, Casamero is considered an excellent example of a Chacoan outlier.
Casamero was a community building that served a number of nearby farmsteads. It was used for social and religious activities aimed at uniting individual families into a cohesive community. Casamero (along with Chaco Culture National Historical Park and six other outliers) is included on the World Heritage List. Although most of the rooms have been excavated, Daugherty said, what is believed to be a grand kiva was left untouched and buried.
It is set a bit below the base of looming sandstone Tecolote Mesa, so named for the owl’s eyes peeking from its walls.
The mesa area itself is striking enough to deserve a visit in its own right, Daugherty said, especially for photographers.
“There are huge, red sandstone walls with owl eyes on them,” he said of the east-facing cliffs that glow stark pink with the morning sunrise. “And the views of Mount Taylor that you can see from there are just amazing. It’s a really stunning location.”
For those who enjoy tucking into tight crevices, the sandstone walls offer a number of chances for adventure.
“There are all sort of nooks and crannies that people can get into,” Daugherty said.
More than 35 known sites are associated with Casamero and include a number of small masonry habitation structures spread across the area. A Chacoan road connects Casamero to the nearby outlier of Andrews Ranch. Foods grown and pottery produced in the Casamero community may have been traded to other outliers and to Chaco Canyon itself.
A further bonus, Daugherty said, is the area is so far off the beaten track that the night sky is wondrous in its inky blackness studded with stars that simply cannot be seen normally.
“Because of its location and extremely dark nights, some of those dark night people would enjoy it,” Daugherty said.