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Between 850 and 1250 A.D., Chaco Canyon functioned as a ceremonial center whose influence was felt for hundreds of miles. Driving south out of the Park, you'll pass through some of the loneliest country you're likely to find anywhere. Near Crownpoint, well-known for its monthly Navajo Rug auction, the byway winds through sandstone buttes right out of a John Wayne western.
Driving west, El Morro National Monument appears suddenly on the horizon like a huge ocean liner. El Morro was an important stop for travelers in the region, who often carved their names in the soft sandstone walls of the butte. Head to Farmington on U.S.64. With its wealth of water, it's not surprising that the Farmington area was a busy place in prehistoric times. The ruins of two pueblos are open to the public: Aztec Ruins National Monument and Salmon Ruins. Both of these Chacoan outliers were settled in the eleventh century. If you've always wanted to go to the moon but never had the opportunity, visit the badlands. The fantastically colored and shaped formations were created by the erosion of geological strata of varying colors and resistance. The drive west on U.S.64 to the Arizona border captures the essence of the Trail of the Ancients. The road descends a canyon filled with yellow- and gray-striped hills. The bright green swath of a wash dazzles among subtle earth tones.