General Overview of Chaco CanyonIn a broad, generalized review, the Anasazi timeline of the area is something like this:
•    The Anasazi were well entrenched in and around Mesa Verde for centuries. In the early to mid 800s AD, unstable climate and unpredictable rains foreshadowed a migration from the Mesa Verde area south to the San Juan Basin, which includes Chaco Canyon.
•    By 950, Chaco Canyon had replaced Mesa Verde as the nexus of the Anasazi world, and it remained that way for almost 200 years.
•    By 1150, for reasons that can only be speculated upon, not proven, the reverse occurred, and the Anasazi began migrating back to Mesa Verde. This is when the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde were constructed.

The most famous of these dwellings is Cliff Palace, built and remodeled between the years 1190-1260, according to tree-ring dating. As we’ll see, the architecture and engineering of Mesa Verde, while impressive, is but residue and afterthought compared to the more spectacular achievements of the Anasazi in Chaco Canyon.

Why is Mesa Verde so well known and visited while Chaco Canyon is not? Several factors are at play. Mesa Verde is located in a beautifully forested, scenic area with crisp, long range views of snowcapped peaks, easily accessible by paved roads, in a park with a first class lodge, restaurant and bar, a deluxe campground with showers, and a well-stocked camp store. Visitors have access to regularly scheduled ranger-guided tours, with tickets purchased in advance. The park is an easy drive from Cortez, Colorado.
As the raven flies, Chaco Canyon is about 85 miles south / southeast from Mesa Verde, with Farmington, New Mexico smack dab in the middle of the imaginary line between the two locations.
Chaco Canyon flourished in the Anasazi world with achievements that dwarf Mesa Verde, yet it receives only about 50,000 visitors per year, less than 10% of Mesa Verde National Park. Chaco’s fluorescence and decline occurred prior to the construction of the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. Chaco, whose ruins are nowhere near as well restored as the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, is considered a stepchild, if visitor counts are considered.